Independence, but from What?

I have to remind myself to feel grateful that I live in a country which has enshrined in its founding documents the ideals of liberty, freedom and independence. The difference between this democratic nation and countries whose citizens can be thrown in jail, executed and stoned to death for departing from cruel bigotries and claims of gender superiority, is a precious gift for those of us who live here.

But it’s clear that this gift can be lost and that it doesn’t prevent people in power from sidestepping those freedoms of opportunity and equality.

There are so many conveniences. Who expected that fast food would replace healthy home-cooked food for so many. Who expected that the largest suppliers would put local producers, whose low carbon footprint is far healthier for the planet, out of business.

Communication has become world-wide and instantaneous. Who expected that being able to communicate with people, near and far, who share our interests, would contribute to the polarization of opposing viewpoints, which now ride like an oil spill on the surface of deeper human perspectives that we all share.

Our society respects the four freedoms (Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Aggression). But every day the news tells us about someone being killed because someone else doesn’t like their sexual orientation, tribe or race. Every day we read about the steady destruction of Ukraine, now armed with just enough weapons to continue fighting. (What if—when Putin’s tanks were starting to assemble on the border—the US had discussed ways to give Russia access to the Black Sea.) Every day we see our own political convictions spawning anger and a belief that we are surrounded by neighbors who don’t care about what is important.

George Santayana made a distinction between freedom and liberty, in which freedom allows us to move and make choices; while liberty is being able to pursue our dreams and aspirations. Freedom is the absence of external obstacles; liberty is being able to tackle those obstacles in order to live a life that is meaningful to us. As Santayana presented it, freedom is an aspect of the world in which we live; liberty is what we are able to nourish inside ourselves.

Since most of us are privileged to live in a society that leaves us relatively free to speak our minds, avoid incarceration, openly honor our individual sense of a spiritual order, and eat two or three meals a day . . . perhaps we are being called upon to exercise that deeper freedom: our liberty to be the kind of person we long to be and which we know the world needs us to be.

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