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Musings on July 4th

What is Independence? I’m thinking about freedom.

We celebrate July 4th in recognition of our winning the Revolutionary War in 1776 and our subsequent sovereignty from Britain.

The United States became known as the place where people could be free to practice their beliefs, but only if they were white (men). At the same time, and since early in the 17th century, we were kidnapping and enslaving Africans, who grew and harvested the crops, worked the land, cleaned the houses, cooked for the masters and did any other bidding, usually under fear of punishment. In 1863, these Africans were legally set free. Their freedom was quite different from the freedom of whites. It still is.

So, is independence freedom? What is freedom?

o the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

o absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government.

o the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

o the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily.

o the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.

o unrestricted use of something.

o familiarity or openness in speech or behavior.

That is an abbreviated dictionary definition. How do we use freedom? I believe we should use freedom in the context of society. Each person is a cog to make a society work and each person can act freely, but must be very conscious of how his or her actions affect others. We can use personal freedom if we don’t harm another.

For instance, the first definition above is the right to speak without hindrance. Once, in the presence of my father but not of the person to whom I was referring, I called someone a stupid idiot. My father admonished me and told me never to use that term: it could hurt someone’s feelings and well-being. It was rude and hateful, which didn’t reveal a good side of me, either. (Can’t say I have adhered to my father’s admonishment !)

That example is on the personal scale; public pronouncements must be even more carefully considered.

Another example of the use of freedom that involves others is something most of us practice daily, while driving: the rules of the road. If you don’t follow the rules, you could easily harm someone or be harmed yourself. Yield signs are very important on the road; we should also carry those signs in our heads everywhere we go; and whenever we speak.

The most conflicted and conflated use of freedom in the USA is the power of guns and people’s perceived use of them. Guns are made for killing. Killing means harm. Harm and killing do not equal freedom.

Another current conundrum (for some) about freedom is a relatively new problem for us Americans: it was caused by the covid pandemic and it’s the use of masks in public, along with being vaccinated. Do you want to exercise your freedom to move about unrestricted (without a mask or vaccination) and risk getting infected or infecting someone else with this potentially horrible virus? If you exercise the freedom of not wearing a mask or not being vaccinated, you exercise your freedom to choose to get sick or die, but do you have the right to convey that choice to another person? If you take prevention measures, you are doing what you can to protect yourself and others from contracting the virus, which has remarkedly taken away our freedom to move about and be others. It has made us slaves and we don’t like it, do we? However, that’s the irony of covid, and we must choose wisely how to deal with it, so we can diminish it.

Freedom for all means freedom with all, because we must consider everyone in our practice of freedom.

As some of us learned in Sunday School, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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