Our freedom to make choices, however limited, defines us as human beings. Without freedom of choice there could be no morality and no capacity for personal integrity. Yet many of our choices in life restrict subsequent alternatives.
The choice of career, of a love-mate, and the decisions to have a family, to stand by a friend, or to embrace a religious faith, all limit future choices. And if we are caring human beings, we find our choices further constrained by our sense of responsibility as members of family and community.
Most of us are mature enough to recognize that freedom is impossible if we abandon responsibility. So, where do we find freedom? What is freedom, really?
The integrity of political, economic, and religious freedoms should always be a concern, and particularly so in times of crisis. However, the difficulties confronting the individual are always paramount. We each find ourselves facing our own tests, and each must respond on the basis of our own sense of integrity.
In the coming weeks, I will explore the difficulties we can experience when seeking personal integrity through clear-thinking moral, spiritual, and mindful self-control in the face of civil disorder or repression.
In times of hardship and distrust this is a vital matter.
Each of us could choose to walk away from the human crisis, but even then we would be confronted by the necessities of nature and circumstance.
Any attempt to walk away comes at great cost, limiting our personal opportunity to grow and mature through the challenges and tests of human relationships. Indeed, most of us find meaning in the commitments we make to our families and friends.
In this time of historic social disruption the potential for finding honor and satisfaction is at its’ greatest.
Whatever our decisions, when we think about what is most important to us – in addition to our loved ones – many of us would place value on self-respect and the freedom “to be ourselves”. We prefer to explore opportunities for ourselves without interference, to have autonomy in making our own decisions, and to seek goals that we have chosen for ourselves.
Let us reflect then on what freedom means when we seek it as self-possessed individuals, and on the attitude with which we can best respond to the social fragmentation and dysfunction that confronts us daily.
It is primarily in the context of tests and difficulties that our identity as human beings comes into focus.
Some of you are not committed to a religious tradition. Those who have religious belief will recognize that the guidance we receive from religious teaching, while critical to personal development and our ability to remain steady in the face of crises, also sets clear limits to appropriate behavior and constraints on free choice.
I expect those of you who are principled but not religious, if you value your self-respect, will never-the-less find yourselves constrained by ethical principles, by your personal dignity and sense of justice.
Religious or otherwise, I think it fair to say that our responses are influenced by our attitude toward life: our sense of belonging, our capacity to appreciate others, and our readiness to engage fully in life while attempting to remain balanced and unperturbed amid the confusion and negativity that life often brings our way.
We may care about human suffering; we may wish to avoid negativity and calamity; yet our personal feeling of freedom depends upon an ability to think creatively and function effectively when the going gets tough, even extremely tough.
This is a daunting task. To be free we must seek to be autonomous individuals first, whole and complete in ourselves, and then to actualize our responsibility as people in the real world.
We may not like the reality in which we find ourselves. Indeed, life can occasionally become nightmarish. But, free will necessitates a proactive response with a commitment to be free in oneself and to respond rationally.
Next week: Moral Integrity, Self-respect and Responsibility