Hello Everyone and Happy Fourth of July!
This Thursday marks the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to the United State of America. While most Americans will be celebrating with fireworks, cookouts and parades, it is important that we don’t forget the original intent and seriousness behind the festivities, and how it affects our lives today.
Human beings, migratory in nature and always attempting to better their condition, have always traveled and expanded their boundaries, often seeking freedom. In the case of the Europeans who colonized North America, by the mid-1700’s they were still under the yoke and duty of the King of England (the atrocities they committed against the Native Americans is an issue too big for this blog). Having fled their home countries, embarking on a treacherous voyage in search of freedom, generations of colonists discovered over time that their freedom was elusive as long as they were still under the governance of the King. One could therefore see the Declaration of Independence as the result of a last straw pushing the colonists over the edge and forcing them to say “enough!”
However, this is not a history lesson. Rather, it’s an opportunity to think again about that freedom so many people have hoped, lived and died for. What is true freedom? What does it mean and what does it require? Is it carte blanche to do whatever one pleases, without a thought about the consequences? And finally, how should we apply it to our lives today?
Far too often, people confuse freedom with the abdication of all responsibility. They mistakenly believe freedom entitles one to do things without regard to consequences, either to themselves or others. However, just the opposite is true. With freedom comes responsibility, the responsibility to act in a positive and just manner.
There is a wonderful essay about freedom and responsibility by a Buddhist teacher, the Venerable Lama Yeshe Losai. He states that, “If I have the freedom to think, it is my responsibility to think positively. If I have the freedom to speak, it is my responsibility to speak properly and meaningfully. If I have the freedom to act, it is my responsibility to act correctly.” The Bible too is full of references to taking care of your neighbor, treating others the way you would like to be treated. Yet one does not need to be religious to observe that freedom without responsibility causes problems in society, running the gamut from social to environmental.
One of the most glaring issues in our time is that of environmental degradation. As recently as one hundred and fifty years ago, people in this country lived in a certain harmony and rhythm with nature. People killed only what they could eat and farmed according to the natural laws of soil, climate and weather. A mere seventy-five years ago, during the Great Depression, people saved and reused everything they could, tapping humans’ natural resourcefulness to its extreme in order to survive and feed the next generation.
Now, with the relative prosperity our nation has enjoyed for decades has come freedom, but at what price? We get in our cars to avoid walking, sometimes even a block or two, preferring to search for a parking space over using our two feet, burning precious fossil fuels as we go. We consume even more of those resources to buy plastic bottles of water, and then throw the bottles away. According to the American Chemistry Council, as of 2010, 80 percent of Americans have access to a plastic recycling program, yet data from the EPA indicates that overall, only about 6.8 percent of plastics are recycled. It doesn’t take much thought to conclude that a significant part of that is just laziness on our part. Perfectly good food is just thrown away at grocery stores, and restaurants serve such huge portions that much of it is tossed at the end of the night. We outsource jobs so we can consume even more and pay less for it and then lament unemployment. Add to that the freedom of speech we have, which many confuse with the freedom to insult, bully and degrade others, and you have a recipe for a society in decline.
In other words, we have the freedom to do what we please, but don’t want to take on the responsibility to use that freedom wisely, from what we say to what we do, and this spans the political and economic spectrum.
On a positive note, regarding the environment there is more consciousness about the issue than ever before, and more resources available if one wants to learn ways to reduce our impact on this earth. Since we have computers and the Internet, re-purpose that computer to learn instead of playing games. Learn how to build a chicken coop, grow carrots in plastic soda bottles, or make furniture out of discarded pallets (there’s no shortage of those). If you have trouble thinking of ways to recycle or reuse, Pinterest is a great website. Organized by categories and highly searchable, you have access to the creative genius and resourcefulness of many people. Or Google recycling, re-purposing, or upcycling ideas. Greencraft magazine is a great magazine for crafters who are interested in re-purposing.
So on this Fourth of July, think beyond the festivities to the broader reach and impact of our many freedoms. Realize also the responsibility with which you’re endowed. Rethink your needs, or to paraphrase my husband, “there are needs and there are wants.” Be thankful we live in a country where we have the freedom to act responsibly and positively. Take seriously your duty to be a role model, not just for your immediate family, but for our society and the world at large. See to it that the great country in which you live is preserved for future generations.
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