Freedom and Responsibilty

Kris Kristofferson once wrote that, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  That is a certain existential freedom that we have all felt, especially if you have been fired from a job.  However, freedom is a little more than that.  Freedom is also the ability to do what you want when you want.  That is a more literal definition, but again freedom is a little more than that.

Freedom is being able to do what you want when you want, but it is also the understanding that there is a responsibility that comes with that.  Freedom is the responsibility to not always do what you want when you want for the good of everyone else.

This is not about whether this drug or that drug should be legal or whether an individual can buy any gun they want.  Let’s say every drug and every gun is legal.  Does everyone understand that they then have a responsibility to use those rights in a manner that doesn’t harm their fellow citizen?  Somewhere along the way with all this talk about freedom in this country, we have lost the memory that freedom comes with the accountability to use it wisely.  Everyone remembers the basic definition of freedom, but forgets the part about not crushing your neighbor with your freedom.

Advanced Citizenship

This is one of my favorite quotes in all of the movies I have ever seen:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight.

That is just a part of a great passage written by Aaron Sorkin for President Andrew Shepherd in The American President.  I love this quote because it is the essence of what it should mean to be a citizen in this country and what governance should be in this country.

Yes, it is hard.  You will disagree with others about certain policies.  You will disagree with something the majority of the country and/or the majority of Congress has decided to do.  You should point out where you see the failings of the government’s policies and deeds.  We have the freedom and the responsibility to question the actions and policy of our government.  To think and say that our government may have made a mistake is not anti-American it is one of the most American things you can do.

If we have substantive issues of disagreement on policy, we should debate them.  However, we cannot allow those debates to degenerate into demagoguery or using the concept of freedom as an all-purpose cudgel to attack anyone who disagrees with you about anything.

It Is A Guarantee

The basis of all our rights is the First Amendment and the Right to Free Speech.  All the other rights flow from this ability to offend others and question the government without worry that you will be summarily put in jail.  However, even that right first among all others has restrictions. It is guaranteed not absolute.  You cannot intentionally and maliciously tell lies about another person in a public forum, nor can you scream, “Fire!” in a public place when there is no fire in order to insight panic or a riot.  Basically, you have the freedom to say what you want as long as there is no intent to do harm to others.  The right to free speech, like all the others, comes with the responsibility to use it wisely and do no harm to others.

This isn’t about guns or drugs or free speech.  This is about us.  This is about we as a country having real debates about issues and not sideshow screaming matches about ephemera to score political points.  This is about thinking through ideas and not holding fast to some talking point some lobbyist cooked up for a client.

This is about each of us taking the responsibility of advanced citizenship and freedom seriously.  Sorkin through Shepherd was right at the end of the rest the quoted speech, this is a time for serious people and serious debates.  We should demand our elected officials remember this and actually govern.  All of our futures depend upon it.

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