Liberty: With Integrity and Responsibility

In the previous two posts I have suggested that the defense of liberty depends on justice, because justice serves as the foundational order of all things. Knowing this provides us with the potential for wisdom and effectiveness. However, the potential can only be realized through personal responsibility.

Responsibility is the necessary action that gives meaning and order to our lives. It is the partner of liberty, which cannot exist without it.

A dear friend once pointed out to me that the implicate meaning of “responsibility” can be found in the compound word, “response-ability.” Without this ability, justice cannot be realized and freedom has no meaning.

We heard from Viktor Frankl several weeks ago in a post entitled: “The Realization of Inner Freedom.” Dr. Frankl emerged from his World War II ordeal in a Nazi death camp with the firm belief that freedom can only be secured with responsibility.

Freedom,” he wrote, “is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.

For many of us, seeking freedom is a gradual process of maturing, letting go of dependencies, and trying to make a go at life with what resources we have at hand. This is meaningful for a time. But, eventually we begin to recognize that both the character of the society in which we live and the material limitations of our lives impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.

Do we then decide to simply indulge ourselves, if we possess the material means to do so? Or, do we seek freedom in the nobility of asserting control over our personal vices and limitations, and by engaging with life in constructive ways?

In the world where we now find ourselves there is really no escape from the necessity to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and to do so in unity of purpose with friends and neighbors.

We cannot wait for things to change, all the while complaining about what should be different. We each have the ability to reach for self-sufficiency in collaboration with others. We are each capable of taking responsibility for the conditions we face in life.

Accepting responsibility can mean many things, depending on the circumstances. Usually we think of responsibility as the act of responding to whatever needs to be done. We wash the dishes not to help in the kitchen, but because the dishes need to be washed. I suggest, however, that there is a core responsibility which underlies and guides all others. This is the responsibility to build and ensure trust.

Without trust, the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate. Trust is the substance of integrity and the single most essential ingredient making it possible for us to build the future.

By integrity is meant a way of thinking and being that is fully consistent with the foundation of justice we have been discussing. It is foundational to all human affairs in the same way that a sound physical foundation is required before one can raise any material construct.

Integrity is integral to our character as individuals, and it can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness. A principled integrity must gain primacy in our very identity, our way of being.

So, there you have it: Integrity is the quality of being; trustworthiness is the substance of that quality; and, responsibility is the action with which we make it so. And, finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the structure that holds it all together.

Responsibility follows immediately from integrity and is the expression of it. Stability and order depend upon this. When responsibility is understood and applied to the challenges we face, progress is possible. Otherwise the integrity of intention is lost.

There is no middle ground. Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised. Without them no true civilization is possible.

Tom

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