I have suggested here that liberty is closely related to justice. I believe true liberty can only be found when we align ourselves with justice. We gradually come to recognize the outlines of justice as we mature into adulthood. So it is that we learn the value of truthfulness, trust, and moral responsibility. The implications of this are profound. Let’s unpack it.
We will not agree on many things, but some principles overstep our differences. Moral responsibility is one—and it requires that we think and act with respect for our fellow human beings.
A friend once pointed out that the meaning of “responsibility” is suggested in the compound word, “response-ability.” Without this ability, there can be no justice and liberty has no purpose.
Viktor Frankl, a medical doctor who survived imprisonment in two Nazi death camps during World War 2, came through his ordeal with a firm belief that freedom can only be secured through 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.”
Seeking freedom begins in the process of maturing: We let go of selfishness, bad habits and dependencies, and try to make a go at life with what resources we can gather or create.
This is meaningful and sufficient for a time. However, we soon begin to realize that the society in which we live, and the material limitations in our lives, impose themselves on us in uncomfortable ways.
Do we then give in to rebellion? Do we sink into feeling sorry for ourselves? Or, do we choose dignity rather than doubt, assert control over our shortcomings, and engage constructively with what confronts us?
Many of us find it necessary to construct the lives we wish for from the wreckage of past mistakes, our own and those of others, and are grateful simply for the opportunity to do so. Even cleaning up a mess can provide a certain satisfaction.
Still, self-respect cannot wait for things to change that we have no control over. We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity, and we must.
This requires initiative, a positive attitude and constructive action.
The meaning of responsibility can depend on our circumstances. What I am suggesting here, however, is that a core responsibility underlies all others: This is the imperative to build and protect trust.
Why is this important? Because ultimately all constructive relationships depend on trust. Social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust. Without the assurance of trust, liberty and justice will remain elusive, and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.
Trust is the substance of integrity. It will be essential for building a future we can believe in.
When we are self-respecting persons, we seek to acquire a principled integrity that defines our character and our way of being.
Please keep in mind, however, that such a blessing can easily be squandered in a moment of carelessness.
So, there you have it: Integrity is the highest attainable value—a quality of moral soundness. Trustworthiness is the substance of that value; and, responsibility provides the constructive action with which we make it so.
Finally, justice is the beginning and the end, the structural matrix that holds it all together.
There is no middle ground. Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised. Without them no civilization is possible.
You may watch for the next post on or about August 12.
A project description and introduction to the coming book, along with completed drafts of several chapters, can be found at the top of the homepage.