Tuesday, July 04, 2006

let freedom ring

as often happens this time of year, i have been reflecting on freedom. do i feel free? where does freedom come from? what would i do to keep it? do i take it for granted? what does it cost?

i think about the declaration of independance and the revolutionary war; and how a rag-tag band of ordinary people put everything on the line to defend their freedom. i think of how the french came to our aid when we were on the ropes against the superior forces of the british.

somehow, the fight for freedom didn't end there; it only began. since then there have been numerous occasions when people did not feel free. oppression has continued in myriad forms, from the bosses to the bullies to the bureaucrats. every generation has to contend with how it will exercise the rights and responsibilities handed down from the constitution and the bill of rights. sometimes freedom requires us to take a stand.

taking a stand can be very difficult, especially when there is no clear answer. it makes me wonder about the war in iraq and the struggle for freedom going on there. in some ways, it seems like our responsibility to help these people in need; that we should use our strength to bring them up. in other ways, it feels like we're trying to shove democracy down their throats; when they need to seize it for themselves.

personally, the times i haven't felt free have been because of my own attitude. i once sat in jail awaiting bail and sang the entire time. other times i've been delayed or inconvenienced, at stop lights or in line at the supermarket, and felt oppressed. i am learning that in any situation, i can make the most of things and take back my freedom. i don't think that necessarily means taking it from someone else or that we have to take up arms. i think that it is a mindset that frees us.

i believe that we are always free to choose. our choices might be limited; but we always have them. i also believe our actions carry consequences that cannot be escaped. we can squander our freedom on riotous living and then live with poor health, if we live at all. we can do everything according to the rules and wonder if it was all worth it. we can hide ourselves away when times get rough and hope that we'll make it through; or we can take to the streets and try and change things. we have more choices than we sometimes even see.

each of us gets to choose. if we follow the crowd against our better judgement, that is a choice; just as if we listen to that better judgement and face the wind.

so often i think freedom gets convoluted with ideas of offense. when we fight for freedom, it's always a struggle against something; as if our freedom depended on some other person and what they do. when we get caught up in the 'eye-for-an-eye', 'fight fire with fire' mentality, we are not free. we need to free our minds.

i think that freedom is best demonstrated in the clash of ideas. a healthy discussion can only occur when people are free to say what they think. we are, of course, always free to say what we want; and there are disrespectful and ugly words that get thrown around all the time. i don't think that type of discourse is healthy or really free. when we browbeat and sling mud and get personal, it seems like the ideas are not strong enough to stand on their own. when our thinking is weak, our tactics get lower.

too often we take offense, when we really need to take a step back. when we can agree to disagree, we rise above our petty differences and experience real freedom. sometimes it seems like we need to sacrifice a little freedom in order to get along and feel safe; when holding back is really an exercise of our freedom. we have the right to remain silent.

it takes a lot of work to come to a consensus. it's a lot easier to drop a bomb. when we get to the point where 'might makes right', haven't we lost all sense of dignity? haven't we regressed back to the way of the beasts? haven't we lost our way?

freedom is not exclusive; it is an opportunity. we don't just have freedom from something we don't want, we have the freedom to move toward our dreams.

my wife jokes that the fourth of july is "smoky explosion day". we set off fireworks to commemorate the bomb blasts that took place centuries ago to establish this nation; and there are several ways to look at that. the most common is to take pride in the freedoms we enjoy and celebrate the magical colors of the lights bursting in air. another is to think about the fact that we are celebrating violence as a means to an end; and see that we still have a long way to go. another still, is to focus on the pollution that occurs every time we set off a firecracker. on the other hand, we can think about how the annual fireworks display brings communities together. unfortunately in every community there are always individuals that exercise their freedom to put on their own backyard display, endangering themselves and those around them. despite this, we can appreciate the fourth of july as an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are.

there is truth in all of these realities about this holiday; but i like to be positive. sometimes it takes a conscious effort to overcome darker thoughts.

i am grateful that i live in a country where i can ask these questions. i am hopeful that we can make the most of our blessings and continue to foster postive change. i have faith in the principles on which this country was founded. i think that we have cause to celebrate that two hundred and thirty years ago we embarked on a great experiment in democracy; and that it is still happening. every year, every day, every conversation is part of that experiment. we are all ingredients in the great american melting pot. i think that's what i love the most about this country: the idea that we all have a part to play in this unfolding drama. listen to that sound: can you hear freedom ringing?