The Ground of Freedom

We value our freedom despite the constraints and responsibilities that come with it.  We would like to do as we wish without interference.  And the feeling stays with us because, unlike any other creature, we possess free will.

Free will can make us aware of any imaginable possibility. We can choose to be kind or ugly, constructive or destructive, good or evil.  Whatever we choose to do, we could just as well choose not to do.

Without choice there could be no morality.

We make choices every day.  Some are very important to us—activities and relationships, intentions and goals which will influence or constrain future opportunities.

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 of these determine (and limit) future choices.  If we are adult people, we find our choices constrained by our sense of responsibility as members of family, community, and society.

If we wish to strengthen relationships or succeed in an endeavor, we will act with “response-ability”.  Because our “ability to respond” will have consequences.

Without responsibility we remain essentially isolated—denied the sense of belonging that defines our place in the world, measures personal integrity and enriches perspective.

It is for this reason that thinking people recognize the interdependence of freedom and responsibility.  Genuine freedom is simply not possible otherwise.

Understanding this allows us to live with purpose.  It informs us of the contours of justice that give structure to human reality.  It provides the context in which freedom can be sought and actualized.

Family, friendships, community, and society—these provide the context in which personal identity becomes conscious.  Together they form the reality in which freedom can be found and exercised. If we are to know who our friends and neighbors really are—their dignity, their hopes and fears, and the experience that influences them—we need to engage in authentic dialog.  We need to know how to listen for the purpose of understanding.

Ethical standards and respectful behavior concern order and relationships.  Both safety and comfort depend on this.  Civilized life is relational and can only be secured by engaging in meaningful dialog.

Making morals and making community are, it has been said, a single dialectical process.  Living in the world calls us to understanding, commitment and responsibility.

Yes, working with people can be the most challenging thing we do.  But, creating a free society—and a safe, friendly neighborhood—can make it very rewarding.

If we wish for constructive lives, we will surely seek the freedom that is our birthright.  And we will recognize the foundations for freedom in the finite limitations of existence.

We are finite beings living in a finite world.  This is the nature of reality and the ground of freedom.  The social order in a civilized society serves a similar purpose.  These are givens.

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 material challenges.

We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet. We cannot fly without wings.

Discipline and limitation are, indeed, the ground of freedom.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about February 1.

Finding the Door

The need for safety, and the urgency to secure food for our table have become paramount concerns.  Our many problems are not simple.  We find ourselves facing the onslaught of multiple crises and unprecedented complexity.  Never before has humankind encountered such challenges. 

Our lives depend on a complex global economy, a fragile supply chain, and an international monetary system based solely on confidence.  We watch apprehensively as the world’s population explodes exponentially, even as food production dwindles.  And, hidden in plain sight, the interdependent digital systems which manage and coordinate almost everything we need, can be easily disrupted.

Long-time readers will recall my concerns about the capricious unpredictability of complexity.  This is a new threat we have never before encountered. Already confronted with personal hardship and civil disorder, we must also brace ourselves for the threat of complexity—the shockingly unexpected.  

The hand-holds to stability are loosening even as we reach for them.  As the horizon darkens, where can we find the door to stability?  How will we build a future we can accept and believe in?

My argument that dependable neighbors are essential and that safe, functional communities can actually be created, has usually fallen on deaf ears.  Sadly, this is difficult to imagine in today’s America.  Yet it is something we have had before.  America was built on the foundation of coherent local communities, and we can learn how to do this again.

The wholesale destruction of communities by the industrial revolution, and the subsequent domination of a faceless corporate society, has had major consequences.  The loss has blind-sided Americans, and I believe it to be the primary cause of growing distrust.

Throughout history, local communities have been the place where human beings develop our personal identity and where we learn what it means to belong somewhere.  This is where we build relationships and gain confidence in our ourselves as individuals.

Americans are intelligent and quite capable of thinking rationally.  But for many generations we have been enveloped in mass society—a corporate-dominated reality.  And, mass society has its own impersonal interests which are not our own.

Today true community very rarely exists.  We don’t know what this is.  Political community is often the only community we have, and partisan politics are defined by division and conflict.

Most of us barely know our next-door neighbors.

Few of us live in a neighborhood that provides the safety and organized coherence that communities have provided in the past.  While we may not be aware of everything that has been taken from us, we certainly know the uncertainty, insecurity and alienation that the loss of community has caused. 

Hurtful experiences are common in this uprooted reality, especially among young people. The natural consequences of resentments and alienation are often misconstrued as disrespect or disloyalty or worse.  But blame gets us nowhere.

Any of us might behave just as desperately if we were faced with similar insults and injustices over long periods of time. Let’s think before we draw conclusions.  If we are ever to understand people, we need to ask questions, and to listen with the intention of understanding.

Nothing I am saying requires us to alter our personal values or views.  But a civilized future can only be built with civility, respectfulness, and responsibility.

We learn that people are trustworthy and dependable by allowing ourselves to know them as friends and neighbors. The best way to learn what people are made of—and to actually build trust—is to work with them shoulder-to-shoulder, meeting shared needs and resolving local problems.

This is the door to safety.  Each of us is capable of walking through it on our own, without regard for the confusion or misbehavior of others.

Yes, building safe local communities will be challenging.  But we can learn this skill, just as we have many others.  Practical guidance is available, and I intend to assist.

However dark the future seems, each of us possesses a lamp we have the power to light. Even the smallest lamp will dispel the darkness, which has no existence of its own.

Tom

Note to readers:  You may watch for the next post on or about January 1.  A project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are available in draft at the top of the homepage.

To Seek an Authentic American Future

The challenges we face in communicating and understanding one another are formidable.  Americans have always been politically contentious, as one would expect in a democratic republic.  But, as we all know, something has changed. Public discourse has been stifled and personal relationships degraded by an atmosphere dominated by fear and distrust.  Alienation has degenerated into open conflict and hostility.  Our differences are many and they are significant.

The failure of meaningful dialogue has obstructed communication, suppressed perceptual sensitivity, and closed the door to understanding.

The observations offered in the first half of my forthcoming book reflect on the American character and the past—ideas and perspectives that transcend partisan politics.  We have a responsibility to reflect on the history that has led us to the place where we now find ourselves. 

No one has a window to the truth.  Our knowledge and perspective are influenced by personal experience and investigation.  Nothing is ever quite what the human mind and imagination make it out to be. And in this extraordinary time, we are confronted with rumor, misinformation, and manipulative politics—all of which degrade our ability to perceive things accurately.

If we are serious about seeking a future we can live with, where freedom is protected and prosperity has a foundation in civil order, we must overcome the forces of disintegration. No enduring solutions will be found where there is alienation and destructiveness.

The United States was conceived as a nation of laws because prosperity is not possible where the subversion of trust dominates the social order. Law can be debated, negotiated, altered.  But the rule of law is a fundamental principle of human security which cannot be subverted without the eventual collapse of human civilization.  Once it is gone, there will be no safety and no easy recovery.

A future that affirms the constructive vision embedded in the Constitution might not be in the interests of a few.  But the vast majority of Americans clearly desire to see the possibility for civility, cooperation, and dependability in the future of this nation. 

The challenge we face in defusing distrust calls for authentic dialogue and a willingness to engage in working relationships.  This is fundamental.  Nothing will otherwise be possible.

So the question before us is whether, and to what extent, we are willing to accept the conditions and discipline it requires.  As demanding as this might appear, it is a project with clearly defined requirements and available means.

To begin, communities will need to sit down and agree on guidelines that make respectful communication possible and constructive action possible.  OK, listen now!  This is not a normal situation. We are hovering on the edge of collapse.  So, acceptable language and rules of engagement must be defined and agreed upon among neighbors, in communities, and in business relationships. 

This is essential.  The necessity for creating secure conditions for mutual assistance and collaboration will have to be taken seriously.  If we want this potential to come alive, we will have to respect and protect it.

As I have repeatedly said, engaging with diversity does not mean altering personal views or opinions.  Diversity is a form of wealth.  It provides us with knowledge, experience, and the learned skills that allow us to meet shared needs and resolve local problems. 

There are many places in this world where we can express our views, and can do so every day.  But in the local community, let’s do this with objective concern for the reality at hand.  In other words, let’s not inflict strong feelings on others in a manner that compromises working relationships, safety and trust.

The truth about people who differ from us is not what the politics of conflict want us to think.  Rather it is what they actually think, believe, and wish for.  Without this information we are flying blind. 

Understanding is only possible when we listen with the intention of understanding. 

In a collapsing civil order, we can set aside our personal philosophies provisionally.  Because safety will require effective communication, graceful collaboration, and dependable relationships.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about December 4.

Note to readers:  An introduction to the coming book, and several sample chapters are available in draft, linked at the top of the homepage.

Why Trustworthiness?

Several of the American founders warned us that self-government depends on citizens governing their own behavior.  Among them, Patrick Henry, George Washington and James Madison all emphasized the importance of virtue.  I have observed here that truthfulness is the most important of the virtues because all the others depend upon it.  And trustworthiness is the sister of truthfulness.  Human civilization cannot survive without them.

How can we rebuild a foundation of trustworthiness in America? 

Well, this is after all a personal responsibility.  We cannot control anyone’s behavior but our own.   Like morality, trustworthiness is only possible with free-will.  It is a choice.

Sometimes I wonder how many of us truly understand the necessity for trustworthiness in a world worth living in.

Each of us is in a position to build trustworthiness with our families and in our communities, even if all the rest of the world succumbs to disunity and degradation.  Trust becomes possible through genuine, unpretentious engagement—honest interpersonal relationships. And yet many of us are possessed by the illusion that trusting relationships are impossible with people we disagree with. This is a problem.

Trust grows through the experience of good will, dependability and patient kindness.  It has nothing to do with opinion. We can begin to experience dependability in working relationships.  And when we get to know people through experience, we discover who they really are and put aside our imagination.

Authentic relationships depend on authentic dialogue.  And in the dysfunctional society we live in today true dialogue is rarely tolerated. Conversations between disinterested or self-indulgent individuals are little more than disconnected monologues.

We cannot understand each other when we fail to listen with the intention of understanding.

Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet, we enjoy one another while watching professional sports together over beer and pizza. Some of us have experienced the absolute trust required in the military.  Certainly, soldiers do not agree on everything under the sun.  But they do not question the necessity for trust.

The time will come, as society continues to break down, when personal comfort and possibly even survival itself will depend on trustworthy neighbors.

Can we see that the world is coming apart?  There is no longer time for foolishness.  Cooperation is becoming necessary to resolve local problems and meet shared needs. An inability to engage as neighbors and fellow-citizens committed to dependability, will become increasingly dangerous.

In the last post I wrote about the means for decision-making in communities and small groups where substantial differences exist.  A regular reader on the Facebook page commented: “You are right, but given everything that has happened in the past and is happening today, this is a tough elephant pill to swallow.”

I responded to her: “Hi Caroline. Do you think we have a choice? We are facing a major transition. In my view, a small number of determined Americans can form communities among themselves, and new people can be added gradually–if they are ready to adopt a realistic perspective and discipline. I think you know what I mean: Trustworthiness, dependability, a respectful attitude and the acceptance of differences. You need only to find a few to initiate dialog and begin to sow the seeds. This can take place in scattered locations across the country–wherever good will and rationality survive.”

Engaging with the people around us can be challenging.  But we need not convince them of anything politically or philosophically.  We only need to win them over as good neighbors, with kindheartedness and determination.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about November 2.

Trust and Dependability in a Dangerous World

What better to think about on Labor Day weekend than how to best work well together—in our families, our communities, our workplace?  Relationships are a part of human life.  We are social beings.  We need relationships to be constructive, to discover meaning and find satisfaction.  And they can easily be stressed or disrupted by aggravations that come from poor communication, or differing perspectives and unrecognized assumptions.

These are natural challenges.  They can be addressed intelligently, respectfully, if we care enough to do so.  However, relationships become far more complicated and charged with emotion when they involve power and vulnerability.  This is true in businesses and institutions, and certainly in governance.  And nothing can disturb a marriage faster than false assumptions or the unjust use of power.

We cannot understand each other when we fail to listen with the intention of understanding.

In the degraded society we live in today genuine dialogue is rarely tolerated. Conversations between disinterested or self-indulgent individuals are little more than disconnected monologues. Decisions are often made with limited information and isolated perspective.  In the disengaged clamor of raw factionalism, an unheeding polity may even avoid input that bears on their own interests.

Suppose there might be value to be gained from an unfamiliar perspective or lived experience?  What if we examined all available knowledge and diversity of experience—and listened to ideas with inquisitive interest? In the end, what is lost by expanding our personal knowledge and understanding?

Are we afraid to integrate our own creative thinking—constructively, judiciously—with that of others if it produces beneficial outcomes? Why?

I address you here with a practical concept:  How can consultation and decision-making be made productive and comfortable for everyone?

Each of us needs a free and supportive atmosphere to represent ourselves for who we are—to share our point of view, to represent our values, to be treated with dignity.  Above all, we need to be heard and responded to.  Otherwise, our presence has no purpose and no community is possible.  

Most of us have experienced the frustration of participating in typical business meetings.  And we are familiar with the mediocrity of the usual outcomes.  I invite you to consider an entirely new way of thinking and doing—a way of engaging with one another respectfully and constructively. 

Effective decision-making requires the use of the knowledge, experience, and creative thinking of everyone participating.

Listening and understanding is essential.  Some people are shy or fearful or generally reticent.  We need to tease out potentially useful thinking, and this requires patience and inquisitive interest. Similarly, a difficult personality can mask a potentially valuable perspective.  Creative ideas or insights can remain hidden if we fail to seek them out. Curiosity is essential.

Problem-solving solutions can emerge unpredictably in even the most complicated circumstances when we assemble them from the aggregate of all available contributions.  The outcomes thus produced are often new and unexpected. 

Our purpose here is to reach solutions or develop plans which are not only mutually agreeable, but are actually the most effective outcomes possible.

This is not consensus.  Consensus reduces outcomes to the lowest common denominator.  Consultative decision-making does the opposite. By incorporating the knowledge, experience, and creative imagination of every participant, decision-making produces outcomes more fruitful and effective than anyone could have expected.

Respectfulness and full participation are essential. Outcomes must receive buy-in from everyone.  No one can be shut down or sidelined.

In an increasingly degraded and dangerous world, it is in everyone’s interest to build fully engaged and agreeable relationships with our neighbors.  All our neighbors. 

Cooperative engagement and good will that creates safety and security are possible despite significant interpersonal differences—when we activate genuine community with steadfast patience.  There is no need to compromise personal values.

Detailed guidance will be made available in my forthcoming book.

Diversity of perspective and experience are extremely valuable resources.  We would do well to make use of them.

Tom

The Courage to Engage

If Americans are to create a future we can live with, where personal freedom is protected and prosperity has a foundation in civil order, we must overcome the alienation from each other that prevails today.  Accurate knowledge vanishes when we fail to investigate independently—engaging, listening, seeking true understanding.

Furthermore, significant disagreement on a single issue, or several, does not define another person.  When false assumptions dominate, we never discover how dependable another person might be, especially when we are all in trouble.

If someone is abusive or disrespectful, leave them to themselves.  But many others will respond with dignity.  

Avoiding dialog and lacking courage, we have entered a downward spiral into estrangement.  Americans have always been a contentious lot, but trust has been deteriorating for decades.  It has reached extremes that are untenable.

Without civility and trust, civil order has no footing.  Emotional well-being and the ability to cope with stress are faltering.

We see this all around us.

The present crisis is real and it is complex.  It is physical; it is social; it is moral.  Something is happening to us, and it is not normal.  It cannot be fixed by a superhero—nor by a legion of self-assured politicians.

In the face of societal disintegration, we are helpless without a kind heart and a responsible attitude.

Can we find the courage and generosity of spirit that give us strength?  Can we settle down emotionally with the grace and grit we are surely capable of?

No enduring solutions will be gained by destructive means.  Nobody needs to tell us that.

The United States has been a nation of laws for a reason.  Ethical foundations offer stability, especially in the context of conflict, controversy, and change.

As we all know, cultural values necessarily compete.  Law can be debated, negotiated, altered.  But the rule of law itself—as a fundamental principle and the foundation of order—cannot be corrupted without the eventual collapse of a civilization.

In the midst of turmoil we must tread carefully, judiciously.  Because once the foundations of civil order fracture, there will be no safety and no easy recovery.

The vision embedded in the United States Constitution might not be in the interests of a few.  But most Americans clearly desire the justice and order the Constitution facilitates. And we long for dependability.

Will we rise above our differences to the extent necessary for rational decision-making?  Do we seek safety and cooperation in our local communities?

Civilization depends on a unity characterized by dependability, generosity of spirit, and mutual trust.  If this is our purpose, we will face our challenges with civility and determination.

We will commit to constructive working relationships with our fellow citizens—however great the obstacles.  Our personal integrity, the safety of our families, and a livable future all depend on this.

Let me be clear:  A rational response to the deepening crisis will concentrate our attention on the creation, strengthening and survivability of authentic communities.

The character of the American future will depend on our readiness to engage in constructive action.  This means working shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors, whoever they may be.

Building trust is an imposing challenge.  It will take time.  So, creating real community begins with negotiating genuine agreements, respecting personal sensitivities, and the courage to engage responsibly.

This is not easy.  Responsibility never is.

With loyalty, discipline and determination, I submit to you that something far better, far nobler, something perhaps beyond our present ability to imagine, will emerge from the present turmoil.

If, however, we cannot work together effectively to build safe local communities with people we have differences with, we will condemn ourselves to the only possible alternative: a collapsing civilization distinguished by fear and violence, a nightmare for our children, and a land where no principles, no values, no stable order can be realized.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about September 1.

A reminder to readers: A project description and several sample chapters from the coming book are posted in draft at the top of the homepage.

The Spirit of Liberty

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, as a source of creative energy and as an evolving expression of political freedom, social diversity, and economic vitality. People everywhere have been attracted to the vision it represents. Yet, the extraordinary challenges that confront the American people today mark a turning point and a defining test of America’s place in history. 

We have entered a dark time.  Confronted with economic instability, social disorder, and widespread distrust, it can be easy to forget the unique stature of the United States and the unfolding role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization. Our economic well-being as a nation has been weakening for decades, and the generosity of spirit for which we have long been known has dimmed.  Confidence in the future is shaken.

There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.  What is essential, however, is that we recover our traditional spirit of generosity and resilience. There is truth in the unity of our national character—in our humanity and the dignity that has always given us courage and self-respect.

Few have expected what we are seeing now.  The future has been altered in unimaginable ways.  Even so, America is blessed with a constitutional order that respects the individual, seeks to protect both minorities and majorities, and makes room for diversity, innovation and creativity. 

The genius of the United States Constitution lies in a simplicity that imposes minimal restraint and allows maximum freedom—all the while requiring moral responsibility and functional cooperation.

It is a legal document, carefully crafted in structure and intentionality.  But it is far more than a simple contract.  It embodies a vision and a trust.  It was prepared by men who cared deeply about the future and about Americans as a people.

The Constitution presents itself today as the gift of an inheritance.  The freedom it promises is anchored in the wisdom of its legislative order, the protections it ensures for the individual, and the means with which it enables constructive change. These are among the essential elements of a civil order that provides Americans with stability and the opportunity to forge a rational future.

The American Founders recognized that the liberty secured through constitutional order will only be as strong as the citizens who make it so.

In what form must this strength manifest itself? 

The unique character of the Constitution depends on moral responsibility and the basic virtues we all know about: Truthfulness, trustworthiness, justice, forbearance—and a prudence that respects the interdependence of these virtues. This expectation of the future is written into the fabric of the American idea. 

Yet we are confronted with unsettling questions in the 21st century.

A multitude of severe crises have brought immense pressures to bear.  Will civil order be torn apart by resentments, distrust and frustration?  Will the nation survive as the constitutional republic envisioned by its founders? Do we have the fortitude and grit to learn the lessons and reaffirm the vision that will lead to a genuine American renewal?  We are living at a pivotal moment.

Will Americans embrace the spirit required of us by the founders, which alone can lead to unity of purpose?  Or will we succumb to a rigidity born of insecurity and fear?

Neither philosophical convictions or the correction of mistakes can be addressed effectively until we answer this question in dialogue, as well as in our own hearts.  Civil disarray and social degradation will remain with us until it is.

Do we believe in the American tradition of good will—the expectation that people of differing persuasions can unite around a common cause?  Do we have the patience to rebuild a national unity that transcends the differences that always exist among a free people?

Or, to put the question another way, will we do what is necessary to make the United States of America whole and to prepare it for the future we deserve?

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about August 1.

Note to readers: This post is lifted from Chapter One, “American Crucible”, in the forthcoming book. The entire chapter is available in draft at the top of the homepage:  http://www.freedomstruth.net.

The Road to Liberty

We often make assumptions about the meaning of liberty.  But have we considered its questions and requirements?  Can we truly embrace meaning without examining its foundation?

I’ve been challenging you to seek true liberty, rather than the benefits we suppose it will provide.  And, I have focused on the role of the virtues in the function of the United States Constitution, a concern argued forcefully by the Founders.

Some people think a concern for the virtues is tiresome or frivolous.  Who are these people?  How do they live?  What do they know?

Do we expect to defend liberty without principles or conditions?

The Founders identified personal virtues required by the Constitution.  They knew the Constitution, which imposed almost no limits on personal freedom, could not function without ethical behavior on the part of citizens.

They said so in writing.

Why?

At a time when the horizon is darkening, when growing disruptions dominate our lives, the virtues take on renewed significance.  They include trustworthiness, dependability, patience, forbearance, cooperation and courage—among others.

And the most important is truthfulness.  Because truthfulness is the foundation for all the rest.

While these are personal principles requiring personal commitment, civilization itself depends on them.

For Americans who care about the future this is a practical matter.  The virtues are the fundamental requirements of a civilized, prosperous and secure order.

But they are more than this.  They are markers that identify human character.  They inform us of the inherent attributes of a persons’ beliefs and intentions, the moral and ethical basis for their actions and reactions.

I suggest that these are firm attributes among those who have chosen to serve their country and their neighbors with selfless intent.

Words are not enough.  Honesty and dependability, patience and good will, are revealed in action—the behavior of trustworthy people.

There is nothing we need now more than trust.

And, yes, there is a bottom line:  The truly trustworthy person knows this about him- or herself!  We are trustworthy when no one is watching; truthful when no one else will know the difference.

We show patience and forbearance when no one else would do so.

The virtues bring our lives into harmony with the way of the world when things are right.  They are consistent with justice.  They are the foundations of order.

Who would imagine that liberty could be built on the foundation of anything else?

It is long past time to stop listening to gossip and easy talk.  We need to turn to our neighbors, whoever they may be, and get down to the real work.

Local communities are the building-blocks of civilization, and the virtues are the means that govern outcomes.  It is time for action.

Nothing will change until each of us takes initiative.

We cannot know the needs of a neighborhood, a community or town, without engaging directly and respectfully with our neighbors.

Each of us is responsible for investigating the truth—or withholding judgment if this is not possible.  We cannot afford to see the world through the eyes of others, or to act on unproven assumptions.

Nothing—no person and no problem—can be understood without asking questions.  Dialog and perseverance pave the road to liberty.

If we are not ready for the real work of living in a civilized society, what are we complaining about?

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about July 4.

Note to new readers: An introduction to the coming book and several sample chapters are available in draft at the top of the homepage:  www.freedomstruth.net.

Freedom’s Foundation

Principles are often debated, (and sometimes thrown about in combat), without consideration for their foundation in reality.  How deeply do we think about principles?  When we choose to embrace a principle or lay claim to values, do we consider the meanings and interpretations with which each is understood by others?  Does this matter?

In the previous post I invited you to think realistically about the essential character of “truth” and the importance of truthfulness.  We all depend on our understanding of what is true or false to get through life.

Everyone thinks what they believe is reasonable and true.  Yet it is often apparent that our assumptions differ from those of others.  While we assume that our perceptions of truth are valid, we are often reminded that we have many differences with one another, sometimes slight, sometimes quite significant.

And we all live by principles, sometimes without even thinking about them.  Is it possible they can be influenced by inaccurate assumptions or untrustworthy influences?

If our perceptions of truth are influenced by tradition, or news sources, or social media—how do we know what ‘our truth’ is really made of? How do we judge the foundations for our beliefs—the knowledge and reasoning that supports certainty?  The human world embraces innumerable personal truths!

So, what does this tell us about the reality of truth?  Is it possible there is actually a single foundational truth—a foundation for what is real?

Surely none of us can lay claim to understanding such a fundamental truth, yet it most assuredly must exist.  The world of existence could not function without such a unity.

One principle that matters to all of us is freedom, a principle that often seems elusive.  Realistically, life’s many obstacles and constraints can be oppressive. Yet, freedom is a deeply valued principle.  And so, we choose to respond to life’s constraints with maturity and self-control.

There are many principles we cherish despite their challenges.  Honesty, civility, and generosity of spirit are among the most essential for living and working with others. These may not be ‘rules’ in the usual sense, but they represent values we cannot do without.  They lead to trust, and a genuine freedom that rises above limitations and hardship.

When the horizon is darkened; when safety and trust are threatened by chaotic and unpredictable conditions, we can always turn to fundamentals—to patience, forbearance, dependability, cooperation, and most of all, to truthfulness.

Some folks think organized cooperation is impossible.  But it will be impossible to ensure safety or meet basic needs if our differences prohibit collaboration.

Yes, there will always be some people who are afflicted by selfishness and arrogance.  But the future depends on the character of true Americans—a people who have risen to their tests for many generations.

Americans are smart, resilient, and creative.  In the difficult years ahead, I expect we will gain a deeper understanding of freedom.  We will respond with a maturity gained through hardship and necessity.

We live in a reality defined by limitation and challenges.

All form has structural limits and all limits provide the means for leverage.  It is the consistent dependability of this reality 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 the constraints of necessity we would have no capacity to direct our energy and intelligence, to explore new ideas or undertake new ventures.

Our ability to exercise discipline overcomes the limitations imposed by nature and society.  And the discipline to leverage inspiration against the constraints we encounter in life provides the power to actualize our freedom and transcend the difficulties in life.

We cannot leap without a firm foundation beneath our feet.  We cannot fly without wings.

It is in the encounter between discipline and necessity that we find the ground of freedom.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about June 2.

A note to new readers:  Blog posts are usually adapted from the forthcoming book and appear on both at the main website and on the Facebook page.  To receive emailed alerts click on the Follow button at http://www.freedomstruth.net.

What Is Truth?

Hello my friends, I have some questions for you.  I want to ask what you think about truth and truthfulness.  What is truth?  All of us have our own truths.  We know what we are sure of, and what we are not.  Most of us know why we believe what we believe, but might not be so sure of its source and pedigree.

How do we judge the foundations for our beliefs—the knowledge and reasoning that supports certainty?  Everyone thinks logically.  Everyone thinks what they believe is reasonable and true. 

So, can we see that our various (personal) truths are probably not all the same?

What does this tell us about the reality of truth?  Does it mean there cannot possibly be one single true reality? 

Tell me: What would it be like to live in a world as fragmented as our differing ideas about it are?

I suggest we think for a moment about how the reality we live in actually functions.  How, for example, does the human body work so well despite its astonishing complexity?  What allows all our interrelated parts to work together in unity?

How does the physical world provide precisely what we need to live, breathe and be active?  Why does everything—air, water, light, gravity—all fit together so perfectly?

These are among the interrelated aspects of a reality that make life possible.  They are truths we interact with daily and cannot live without.

They are interrelated functions of a single coherent whole—an indivisible and inviolable truth that tolerates no compromise with opinion.

Why do we have such difficulty accepting the logic of coherent wholeness—the single all-embracing unity that presents itself in the life we are given on this planet?

Well, it seems to me there is one very big difference between human beings and the natural order in which we live:  We possess free-will. The ability to make choices allows us to actualize our thinking, to create, to be constructive and to cooperate.  No other creature can do these things.

We have the conscious ability to engage with one another and with the universe.

However, this freedom also allows us the choose selfishness, to be hurtful and destructive.  And to be mistaken.  Anything we chose to do we could just as well choose not to do.

So, here’s another question:  Why would anyone graced with the miracle of life turn away from the honor of contributing to the safety and well-being of family, community, or nation?

Is this confusion?  Stubborness?  Short-sightedness?

And so I ask: What are our choices when we disagree?  Are anger and hostility our only options?  What courses of action can lead to acceptable solutions?

To phrase the question another way: How can we respond to conflict in a way that is constructive, that listens—that avoids subverting or destroying our very own hopes and wishes?

If we believe in freedom we will need to accept diversity and differences.  This is reality.  And to preserve a free society we need to understand our differences and negotiate our way forward.

As you can see, cooperation is not about sameness.  Constructive action is about rising above our differences to build dependable, trustworthy relationships.

Our values and principles are only effective in this way, and a civilized future depends on it.

We all know this is not easy.  But the rewards are great and the alternative is terrible.

What will it take?

In my view, it will be necessary to align ourselves with fundamental order:  Not the order devised by free-will and the human imagination, but the pre-existing order we are born into on this planet.

You might not be religiously inclined.  Some of you might not even respect the concept of virtue.  But human societies have recognized the necessity for the virtues for thousands of years.

Truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, patience, kindness, self-restraint…. Why are these so important?

They are important because they allow us to align ourselves with the pre-existing order—to belong in this world the way we are supposed to be, and to live safe, happy, productive lives.

And the most important is truthfulness.  Because everything else depends upon it.

Everything.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about May 2.

A note to new readers: An introduction to the coming book and several sample chapters are available in draft at the top of the homepage.  To receive emailed alerts, click the Follow button.

The Freedom Within

We are human.  We have been given free-will, the ability to make choices and to act with reasoned judgment.  While our freedom will always be limited by circumstances, our choices are what define our character and identity.  Without freedom of choice there can be no morality.  And the choices we make, whether thoughtful or thoughtless, determine our behavior and demonstrate our integrity.

Self-confidence in our personal integrity is of paramount importance for everyone, and this can be disturbed by life’s many challenges. It is often impossible to avoid the tests life throws at us, but it can be helpful to recognize the potentially positive way such disruptions can lead to personal maturity.

Responding constructively to a crisis can be very difficult.  Crises challenge our personal sense of integrity.  We all want to have confidence in our own integrity.  But what is the basis for personal integrity?

Upon what foundation do we ground our sense of integrity?

I suggest that ones’ feelings of integrity rest upon our understanding of the underlying reality of things, whether or not our perceptions are accurate.

Self-confidence depends on our beliefs about the way things are supposed to be.  When we feel aligned with reality as we understand it—with truth as we know it—we experience a sense of moral soundness.

But this begs a question:  As individual persons whose perceptions of reality differ from one another—sometimes substantially—how can we be sure of moral integrity?

Should we align our thinking with that of other people?  Can we rely on someone else’s assertions about truth?  Or should we investigate truth ourselves—independently?

Do we have the maturity to see with our own eyes and think with our own minds? I hope we will recognize the importance of an independent attitude, as we attempt to keep our balance amidst the uncertainties and challenges of a disrupted world.

We are members of family and community.  As caring people, our choices are influenced by a sense of responsibility to and for others. 

Surely we know that integrity—and freedom—are impossible without responsibility.  We cannot walk away from a crisis or avoid the necessities of material circumstances.

Our personal lives are embedded in a social context.  And we are all suffering from a damaged social order.  So, my question to you concerns our ability to see where things are headed.

Do we recognize that the “American idea”, and the fragile order that generations of Americans have toiled to build, will be impossible to reconstruct if it is torn down?

Constructive change depends on an orderly process:  Respectful dialogue and consultation will allow the investigation of creative ideas and genuine concerns. 

America depends now on cool heads and a concern for authentic liberty.  These are the foundations of integrity. 

With steadfast patience and determination, a damaged civilization can be renegotiated, reconstructed, healed.  But a civilization reduced to disintegration and chaos will not recover.

Those who think they can gain their ends by means of violence have a hard lesson awaiting them.

It was Hayek who said, “the principle that the ends justify the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals.”

Ayn Rand drove the point home emphatically in her own indomitable style: “An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes.”

Strength of character is not found by going with the crowd.  It is only in meeting tests and difficulties that identity comes into focus.

Freedom depends upon our ability to think clearly and to recognize the true basis for moral integrity.  Especially when the going gets tough.

To be both free and responsible we must be autonomous individuals first, whole and complete in ourselves.  Only then can we actualize our integrity as compassionate citizens in the real world.

Tom

You may look for the next post on or about March 31. 

Beyond Blame

Answering questions about what has gone wrong is never comfortable.  Some truths are not pretty.  And sometimes the rush to find answers leads deeper into a quagmire, and is even less pretty.  We are impatient.  We want quick answers.  And this often means finding someone to blame.

Impatience, anger, and a readiness to accept untested information are never helpful. Truth cannot be fabricated.  It belongs to no one.  Truth can be explored, investigated, questioned by means of honest, unbiased inquiry.  But it is rarely simple, and never found where there is partisan certainty.

Why do we react to problems with preconceived assumptions?  Without investigation we can never know the history, the perceptions and nuanced thinking that went into what appears to be bad judgment. 

If we wish to engage meaningfully, to keep our balance and influence outcomes, surely we need to understand the whole picture.

I suppose you think I’m talking about partisan politics. 

But this concern rears its head throughout our lives—in every kind of relationship and in every arena where differences of perception and perspective persist. Families, businesses, and serious working relationships are all vulnerable to someone who tries to dominate—to act without asking questions, without listening, without respectful dialog.

This is not the only challenge we face today.  We face the complexity of massive structural change, the consequence of historic forces that are now impacting us on every side. A confluence of crises is emerging over the horizon.  Our vulnerability to the internet and a vast digital infrastructure is just one example.

Unprecedented levels of national, state, and corporate debt are hobbling the economy. We face the consequences of an antiquated national grid and municipal water systems, an historic drought accompanied by extreme weather, the loss of sufficient farmland, unforgiving poverty, recurring financial crises, and a fragile monetary system plagued by deteriorating trust.

Needless to say, no one fully understands this complexity—how we came to be here or what the future holds.

Blame is perhaps due for greed, lack of foresight, and many other things.  But, if Americans seek to revitalize our core values and to restore a once vibrant civic spirit, we will need to recognize the reality of structural change which is no one’s fault.

Constructive dialog is the first step toward understanding and wisdom.  And a diversity of experience, knowledge, and skills are a necessity.  Our future will depend on it.

The current difficulties in the United States have a history.  A gradual and longstanding loss of trust has accompanied a deterioration of civic vibrancy and economic resilience. This trend has been observed by polling organizations and commentators for more than half a century.

Distrust has left a trail of destruction and decimated the fabric of community relationships.  It has left Americans without a shared sense of purpose. Reason and foresight have been eclipsed by a fixation on quick answers and immediate gratification.  We have embraced false appearances as though nothing else exists.

The moral bankruptcy and distortions of logic embedded in this posture have influenced almost every aspect of our national life. The loss of a grounding in meaning and authenticity has led to disorientation and extremism.

In this context, an insistence on freedom from institutional and political constraints is inevitably confused and fraught with contradictions. Where is there moral responsibility and responsiveness to local needs?

Without careful investigation of context as the basis for problem-solving, and a genuine respect for negotiated solutions, the stability of the future will be unattainable.

If we are to recover our balance, we will need to get acquainted with one another, to engage meaningfully, and to walk away from the alienation and incivility that brought us here.

Let’s get down to the real work of liberty: forging dependable working relationships and rebuilding local community wherever we find ourselves on the map.

There is no other way to restore trust. It won’t be easy.  But with patience, determination, and a constructive attitude we will learn.

It will never be too late to start anew—to dig deep within ourselves and step forward with dignity and purpose.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about February 28.  I will be posting less often for now; I need to focus on completing the book.

Note to new readers: A project description, introduction to the forthcoming book, and several sample chapters are available in draft–linked at the top of the homepage.