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The Paradox of Freedom

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…”

Those words are from the great Janis Joplin song, “Me and Bobby McGee” (lyrics by Fred L. Foster and Kris Kristofferson).

While most people would agree that this is a nice sentiment, it has very little to do with reality. In reality, the paradox of freedom is that it is directly and proportionally related to responsibility.

Think about it. There’s a name for the group of people who have almost no responsibility — people who go to sleep each night and wake up each day responsible for almost nothing, to almost no one. They’re called prisoners. If you think about it, prisoners have about as much responsibility as they do freedom. The very responsibilities that you and I might see as burdens or pressures aren’t even options for those whose freedom only lies inside guarded walls.  (Of course I assume you’re not reading this from prison.)

When it comes to the relationship between freedom and responsibility, the truth is that the people in this country who have the most choices daily are the people with the most responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are a virtually unavoidable paradox. With responsibility we gain opportunities and we get options; with options we make choices; and with choices we have freedom.

Put Freedom into Context of Responsibility

When we take freedom out of the context of responsibility, we begin to see an “enabled” culture, where people expect the freedom to make choices but disregard the responsibility from which those freedoms are afforded. Taking freedom out of context can create attitudes that are unproductive. It can also create dialogues that are too one-sided and cannot handle spirited debate or discussion. This attitude toward freedom might have the power to undermine the big decisions being made, or not being made, about the path our country takes to grow stronger again.  (See also: “Wisdom” of the Masses)

Freedom Responsibility

Embrace the Paradox of Freedom

Be wary of perpetuating a culture that consumes freedom without the currency of responsibility. In truth this is a very simple concept, but not always an easy one. It’s a concept that conscious, aware parents and educators try to teach our children and teenagers. It’s a concept that older generations of Americans come to understand that their parents were teaching them.

Let’s not lose site of this awesome responsibility; let’s make responsibility the context by which we enjoy our freedom. It will only afford us more and better choices, and healthier dialogues, by which we improve the quality of life in our country.

More words from Joe

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