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