I’ve read it numerous times. I’ve seen it seven times in person. I have multiple pictures of it. Having taught its concept in my U.S. History classes for over 10 years, there is something about the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus’ poem that will always resonate with me. I would love to have seen her in her original state of bronze, newly constructed, and established in New York harbor in 1886! Yet what was intended as a symbol of friendship between nations, has turned in to something very different in the last 127 years. From the immigrant passers-by of the early 20th century to every American citizen today, regardless of age, sex, religion, race, creed, color, or sexual orientation, Lady Liberty stands for freedom.
Everyone who lives in America wants to define freedom for themselves. Some want just enough to live their lives the way they want. They enjoy freedom, yet also understand the need for boundaries and limitations. Others would like to see absolute freedom. The absence of boundaries to enable anyone to live any way they see fit, despite social etiquette, norms, or traditions. The feel good, in the moment mentality of freedom. Yet, there are various risks and consequences involved in freedom without boundaries.
Whenever I have a student tell me that they are sick of school, I simply give them the following instruction, “Then leave.” After they get done looking at me like I’m stupid, I explain the idea of freedom: Freedom comes with boundaries. They always respond with the exact definition I’m looking for, “But I can’t. I’m supposed to be here. I’ll get in trouble if I just get up and leave. My parents will kill me!” Or various other forms that fall in line with the idea that no one can handle absolute freedom. I tell them that if they truly put it in their mind that they hate school and want to leave, nobody can stop them. But freedom is a mentality to be defined by the individual. If the boundaries, limitations, and consequences stop you from doing what you absolutely want to do, then you understand and enjoy true freedom. So when I get around to telling them the only people keeping them in school are themselves, they get it. They understand that there is risk and potential danger to living however they want, whenever they want, and going wherever they want. Freedom can be enjoyed and lived to its fullest capacity, even within the “confines” of rules and restrictions.
The idea is to see the broader scope of why those rules exist. They keep us safe. They keep us grounded. They keep us organized. They keep us on task. Why did my parents place me on restriction when I broke their rules? Because as a young, immature boy, they knew I could not live my life however I wanted. They knew what was best for me. Ultimately, what did breaking the rules reveal? My immaturity. My need for structure. My sin. Once I “paid my debt” to my parents, I was again free to live my life. Yet when situations would arise, rather than simply react, I learned to think before responding. “Will this get me in trouble? Will this hurt me or someone else? Is what I’m about to do or say really going to benefit those around me?” Oh my goodness, what was happening? In a simple word…Maturity.
Very often, I have this conversation with the students who grace me with their presence on a daily basis (a.k.a. They are in trouble). I inform them that life is about response. Every single thing you say and do in the course of your day is a response. How you respond to your parents, teachers, and friends. How you respond to situations and circumstances. How you respond to societies issues, strengths, and weaknesses. Life is a response. Are you willing to respond with only your own viewpoint, and nothing else? Are you willing to alienate those around you by not listening to the views of others? What takes place when this happens? I’ll let you answer those for yourself…
So the current trend in America is freedom without boundaries. I’m curious as to what’s coming around the corner that will re-shape society. What do I mean by this? Let’s take a quick jaunt down history lane. At one time in American history, slavery was an acceptable part of life (even according to those who we hold in high regard as not just Founders, but very religious Founders). Slavery was to be discussed at the Constitutional Convention, but wiped from the record for it was deemed to be part of the liberty and freedom of the State. Then it was later “re-considered” through the death of 620,000 soldiers and eventually abolished. Therefore the culture shifted its definition of freedom. Move forward to a woman’s right to vote. Again, culture shifted over the course of 144 years (1776-1920), and decided it was time to remove some of freedom’s limitations and allow women to have a voice. We then push forward to our nation’s Civil Rights Movement. Again, a varying cultural shift followed by the lifting of freedom’s limitations. And then we come to the present age. The homosexual community has shifted the cultural winds and are on the cusp of breaking down more barriers of freedom. Especially with the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Now, before you label me an egotistical bigot, please note. I am not against the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, or the civil rights movement. These are just some of the major cultural shifts in American history. I have a differing viewpoint on homosexuality in America today, and you can read my earlier posts on that topic (It’s what is NOT being taught and Waffle fries vs. Homosexual marriage).
It’s an interesting way to view freedom in America, don’t you think? For 236 years, we have been established on the principles of liberty and freedom. Yet early on, that sought after freedom came with varying limitations, barriers, boundaries, and consequences depending upon what side of the fence you sat on. So at one time, American freedom was based upon hetero-white-man power. And now, this country that stands on the same documents of liberty says otherwise. American culture has shifted so dramatically over the course of its history that it now says equality for all, regardless of limitations, barriers, or consequences. That’s why I ask, I wonder what’s coming around the corner as America continues down the road to absolute freedom? Will men and women be able to marry children? Will equality for all equate to the freedom to marry your pet? After all, love is love, right? When will the ratings system on movies go away? Will the term “illegal alien” be wiped from the American lexicon? Will we have immigration rules and regulations? Which American institution will be forever changed, advanced, or destroyed next? You might think I’m crazy, or are disgusted at the thought of men marrying children. To the older generation, what did 1950’s America think of open homosexuality? Were there conversations of a homosexual couple getting married? What would have been the 1950’s cultural opinion? Point being, what you may think as disgusting or unacceptable one moment, will turn out to be widely accepted the next, regardless of whether you change your opinion or not.
All this being said, I had to get my thoughts down and desired to share them with you. Comments and Conversation are always welcome. I would expect some will simply react and make their opinion known. And it will be very clear on what side of the fence they sit. If you want to simply react based upon emotion. Go for it. After all, it’s your freedom to do so. If you want this concept of absolute freedom for all and the course our nation is heading on to sink in and marinate a little. Again, please do so and then comment with your own thoughts and feelings. Either way, there is no stopping any one of us from doing whatever we feel is right. That’s the freedom we enjoy in this country, isn’t it?