We all have a yearning for freedom. A part of us wants to do whatever we wish, and without interference. The feeling is ever-present because, unlike any other creature, we possess free will. The human experience of free will can make us aware of every imaginable possibility. We can choose to be kind or mean, constructive or destructive, good or evil.
Whatever we choose to do, we could just as well choose not to do. Without this choice, which is hard-wired in human nature, no morality could exist.
We are not animals. There are things we care about—activities and relationships, intentions and goals that are important to each of us, and which call for thoughtful consideration.
If we wish to strengthen relationships or to succeed in any endeavor, we will act with “responsibility”. Because our “ability to respond” will matter.
Without a sense of responsibility, we remain essentially isolated and alone—without the relational experience that develops our skills and measures personal integrity.
It is for this reason that thinking people have always recognized the interdependence of freedom and responsibility.
Genuine freedom is simply not possible in the absence of responsibility.
Understanding this allows us to live our lives intelligently. And, it also informs us of the contours of justice that form the structure of human reality.
It is important to recognize that justice is relational. Rational thinking alone cannot determine the foundations for justice.
For this reason, coming to an agreement on acceptable ethical guidelines needs to be a top priority for every functional community, large or small.
Clearly, we need to be talking.
Such agreements are only possible when pursued with a compassionate attitude and inquisitive interest, as we gradually learn of the life experience and personal struggles each individual labors with.
Personal views and opinions will always be present. This is natural. But, as long as we are listening and engaged, we can uphold personal freedom as a principle and demonstrate our humanity.
Without question, however, living and working together as neighbors depends on a shared understanding of justice and the negotiation of ethical standards.
Safety depends on this. And it is a condition we can only arrive at by means of dialog and consultation.
Making morals and making community are, it has been said, a single dialectical process. Living with others calls for commitment.
Let’s acknowledge that managing the balance between freedom and responsibility is easier for the individual to than for a group.
We need to learn how to do this if we are to bring a community to life and make it a safe and pleasant place to live.
It will require patience, learned skills and an extended learning curve.
If we wish to lead creative, productive lives, we will surely seek the freedom that is our birthright. At the same time, we cannot avoid the purpose embedded in the finite limitations of existence.
We will need to find responsible means for putting this reality to work.
Finiteness is a structural characteristic of the universe. All physical form is defined by limits, as it must be to serve its’ function.
This is the nature of physical reality and the functional ground of human freedom. The social order of a civilized society serves a similar purpose. These are givens.
It is the inherent dependability of this truth that allows us to launch ourselves into new frontiers of learning and experience, to control the direction of our efforts, to instigate, organize, create.
Without structural limits, (which include our own moral values), as well as the civil constraints of an orderly society, we would have no capacity to exercise intelligence and direct our energy, to explore new ideas or undertake new ventures.
For the individual, the ability to exercise discipline overcomes the limitations imposed by nature and society.
The discipline to leverage our inspiration against the constraints we encounter provides the power to actualize our freedom and transcend the material challenges in our lives.
We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet; we cannot fly without wings.
Discipline and limitation are, indeed, the ground of freedom.
You may watch for the next post on or about April 26.