That’s where my freedom stops. The freedom to swing my fist, that is.
If my freedom hurts your nose, I’m misusing my freedom. That’s why democracies make laws. It may be a bit simplistic to say so, but in a democracy, we make laws as a promise to practice good behavior, good manners, toward each other.
In other words, there is no freedom without the responsibility not to hurt each other. As a matter of fact, without that freedom from harm, a democracy disintegrates into anarchy and chaos.
Within recent memory, I’ve heard complaints from people who want an absolute right to endanger me. They say my right to safety violates their “American freedoms.”
This difference of opinions is not new, but the Covid-19 crisis has brought it into sharp focus. Does my risk of sickness or death limit your freedom? Of course not. Your freedom only exists if it includes your responsibility not to harm me.
And that raises what I think is the key question in the upcoming national elections. This week your Jamestown Gazette focuses on those elections, among the most contentious in our history.
We hope to stimulate some new thoughts as our readers head for the ballot boxes, whether in person or by mail.
Here’s my question: Though most of us will agree that American freedoms include a responsibility not to harm each other, does that mean American freedoms include a responsibility to help each other?
Past Chaplain of the United States Senate, Peter Marshall, once said, “May we think of freedom not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”
But wise as that seems, it still leaves us with the question of what is right concerning American freedoms: “If I promise not to hurt you, is that a promise to help you?”
Some parts of our national debate accuse a few politicians of being “too helpful,” promoting a system that makes me promise to help all of my fellow Americans. On the other hand, others are accused as promoting an individuality so rugged that everyone is on their own, “free” to follow their own course, do as they please, as long as they do no harm.
When stated so simply, it seems clear that American freedoms are best exercised by following some of each path. That, however, requires compromise.
Retired four-star General Colin Powell, widely respected on both sides of the political aisle in Washington, once said, “Never lose sight of the need to reach out and talk to other people who don’t share your view. Listen to them and see if you can find a way to compromise.”
Compromise, therefor, requires strength as much as understanding and compassion. Look for a combination of both of those qualities in candidates you decide to vote for. That kind of compromise makes a powerful statesman out of a mere politician.
For a final insight, I turn to a fellow journalist, renowned for his wise insights, Walter Lippmann. He was a New York native, a reporter and political commentator famed for critiquing both the media and democracy. Lippman said, “The opposition is indispensable. A good statesman, like any other sensible human being, always learns more from his opposition than from his fervent supporters.”
So, when you vote, look for candidates who can do that and you will support American freedoms at their best.
And to do that, please keep reading your Jamestown Gazette and enjoy the read.