The Battle of Yorktown. 1781. The first of many “final” battles to secure freedom for the people on these shores.
But — on this July 4, 2017 — what IS Freedom? What does it mean? What does it promise?
Janis Joplin wailed that “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose …” Well, I guess the option of feelin’ good with Bobbie Maggie is a perk of freedom. But I’m not sure that an attitude like that truly makes us free. I guess if you’re “free,” you might choose to look at it as void of all responsibilities, commitments and rules. That is a very appealing definition. You Sail through life, unencumbered … free to do what you want when you want no matter the consequence.
But wait … If you’re free, what does consequence have to do with it? What does that imply about Freedom?
Les Représentans du peuple se rendront à leur destination, investis de la plus haute confiance et de pouvoirs illimités. Ils vont déployer un grand caractère. Ils doivent envisager qu’une grande responsabilité est la suite inséparable d’un grand pouvoir. Ce sera à leur énergie, à leur courage, et sur-tout à leur prudence, qu’ils devront leur succès et leur gloire. – Voltaire
In other words …
The people’s representatives will reach their destination, invested with the highest confidence and unlimited power. They will show great character. They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power. To their energy, to their courage, and above all to their prudence, they shall owe their success and their glory.
Consequences come with Freedom. Freedom presents us with Great Power. And, with Great Power comes Great Responsibility. Therefore, if Voltaire — and Lord Melbourne, Winston Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Marvel Comic’s Uncle Ben who also spoke those words — are to be believed, you can’t truly be Free without honoring your responsiblity to others.
Freedom is a double edged sword, clearly illustrated by the history of America as we interfere (or assist) globally and even within our borders. We are Free to write, gather and speak as we choose. To march, unitedly declaring our rights and frustrations. To remove historical monuments when they offend some or their interpreted intent does not appeal to all. To hang flags — or not. To worship — or not. To love. Well, relatively these days depending on the state. But the heart wants what the heart wants, so we love.
But Freedom is not a hall pass. Freedom doesn’t mean we can do what we choose with impunity.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. – Nelson Mandela
But what does that mean? If we’re free, can’t we roll with it, baby? Nope. Yes, there exists in our nature an almost animalistic Need to be free … to do what we want as we want when we want with whomever we want. Isn’t that the very base meaning of the word? Again I ask … how does Freedom connect to Consequence?
Recent Presidents — both Republican and Democrat — can offer thought …
The anchor in our world today is freedom, holding us steady in times of change, a symbol of Hope to the world. – George W. Bush, State of the Union 1990
Because we are free, we can never be indifferent to the fate of freedom elsewhere. – Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address 1977
Yes, there exists in us a desire to be completely Free — to shed our burdens and obligations and separate from those around us to Fly. I know my kids crave that kind of freedom. Come and go. Live and let live. Explore and Experience. But that is a two-dimensional definition of the word. The self-oriented one. The one that seems to offer all the fun but truly is shallow, hollow and ultimately unfulfilling.
There are two freedoms. One where we can do what we like and one where we are free to do as we ought. (Charles Kingsley) Sure, freedom offers us as Americans the opportunity to dress, worship, speak, assemble, vote, bear arms and write as we please. Heck it gives you the option to read or not read my words. But there ARE still limits. Lawlessness, self-indulgence to the point of destruction, carelessness with those in our sphere, shooting those who we don’t like or disagree with … well you CAN behave that way. But those acts of “free will” bring about heady, legal consequences. Pretty sure Alexander Hamilton and friends would tell you that while the Declaration of Independence advocated life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness it also demanded responsibility. Responsibility for me to myself — and to those who walk near, beside me or even down the street a few blocks or states from me.
Freedom offers great power. And yes, Uncle Ben, with Great Power does come Great Responsibility. We do our best with that. Freedom doesn’t mean do what you want and what you please all the time. Freedom brings opportunity AND Checks and Balances.
Freedom … we keep using that word in our country, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.
Alex, TJ, George … so many of our leaders knew the Battle of Yorktown wasn’t the end of the war. It was the beginning of our ongoing struggle to maintain and secure true Freedom. To honor that Great Power with Great Responsibility with or without the slick Spidey suit and web-shooting power.
Let Freedom Ring!