What's it mean to be free?
The word freedom will be used liberally this week. As we sing songs, attend parades, and engage in fireworks, we will be reminded of freedom. But what is freedom? Is it liberty, or having the right to express yourself as you wish? Is it a lack of restrictions, so that you are boundless in your ability to come and go as you please and share with others your innermost thoughts without fear of retribution? Is it self-determination, or the ability to choose for yourself whatever path you wish?
All of these words suggest a different dimension of freedom, but none of them seems to offer a complete definition. For freedom without responsibility can also be reckless and wild. It can be thoughtless and careless, leaving those with whom we share our life to collect the messes we leave behind.
To be a free people suggests that we accept the demands of responsible action, through careful thought and contemplation, about the outcomes of our actions on all others. We know we are not isolated in the world we inhabit, that we share our space with multiple people, each in its own way. So how do we become respectful, responsive and mature in our thoughts and actions and the ways we associate with others?
It seems it begins with the realization that we are not living this life by ourselves or for ourselves. We share a home, an office space, a neighborhood or a classroom with other people, be they related or not. And in sharing these spaces, we have a responsibility to be a good citizen and to bring about harmony wherever we are.
Next, it seems that we must acquire the desire to live to the best of our ability in each situation in which we find ourselves. We have the opportunity to look for the best in others and provide the best of ourselves for them in return.
And finally, it seems that we must have a broader desire to leave the world better than we found it. Whether that means that we thwart gossip when we hear it, pick up a pop can and recycle it, or offer to help someone in need, we each have the opportunity every day, to make the world a better, happier, more accepting place for all.
If we each commit to doing what we can to see that freedom is experienced by everyone, we will find that freedom is truly something to celebrate. Enjoy this week and remember that we share every space with others, that we are called to be the best of ourselves wherever we are and that we can leave each space better than we found it.
Soucheray is a Woodbury resident and a licensed family therapist