It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about true freedom.
This has been running through my mind for the past month. It’s perhaps one of the simplest statements I’ve ever made, but it carries a certain weight that can’t be explained in a simple manner. When I think of this country, and how great it is to live here as compared to other countries that are racked with disease, tyranny, murder, and fear, I keep coming back to those three sentences.
We all love to argue that we know best. Not just as a country and a world power, but among ourselves as well. Liberals and conservatives argue because both sides think that they have more sound blueprints for living the best life, and if we stray from those blueprints, all hope is lost. The same could be said for atheists and believers, Democrats and Republicans, and countless other sparring groups in America. If we pass this law or change these rights or regulate this thing, that very specific way of life becomes blurred. We’ve lived this way for over 230 years. And it’s killing us.
Another thing that we all love to do is talk about freedom. Any song, story, poem, speech, or angry rant about the United States probably has “freedom” wedged in it somewhere. It’s one of the cornerstones that make this country what it is. We’re Americans. We love our freedom, our unhealthy foods, and our extreme attachment to football games, and damn anyone who says otherwise because this is ‘Murica!
Freedom is kind of like the default response for us in a debate. If you need to justify something, relate it to freedom. If you want to make someone else look like a villain, make it look like they’re taking away freedom. If all else fails, say something about freedom. But do we really understand freedom anymore? Have we ever understood it? I mean real freedom, not this “freedom for us, we don’t care about anyone else” mentality that we’ve all adopted over the last few centuries.
We’ve lost sight of the fact that true freedom is selfless; it is bigger than any one person, or one group. It isn’t just for me, or for you, or for that minority group over there, or for people who live a specific way. We have disagreements about how to best live our lives, and rightfully so. Those are necessary and vital functioning parts of our society. But we’ve gotten so wrapped up in these discussions that we’ve forgotten that they don’t always define the existence of a freedom. When we’re talking about rights, and restricting what citizens of this country are permitted to do, those discussions usually make or break the creation of a law. And we need to change that.
For the purposes of making a point, I’m talking about the basic rights that don’t affect others. Nobody is talking about legalizing murder or cocaine use or anything of that sort here. Ideally, rights are given to people, as long as those rights don’t endanger the safety of others. Let’s take same-sex marriage (because I haven’t already written nine million angry posts about that issue already). When two men want to get married, they get those rights because their marriage does not harm others, and they have chosen to get married and spend their lives together. That’s what freedom should look like. But is that what it looks like today? No.
We’re too focused on arguing about what each of us thinks is the best way to live, and we’re missing the overall point: that regardless of what individuals think, we still get to live our lives as we see fit. Of course there are still limits on that, because if we allow serial killers to live their lives as they see fit, innocent people will die. But in regards to things like same-sex marriage or marijuana use, we have to step back and accept the fact that there will always be people whose minds cannot be changed. And failing to change someone’s mind is not proper justification for denying them the right to make the decisions they’ve made.
It boils down to one simple idea: I’m going to live my life in the way that I think is best. I base this lifestyle on my values, beliefs, and expectations, and I encourage you to do the same. I will happily have discussions about why I am choosing to live my life in the way that I am living it, and why I think you would benefit from living similarly. But if you disagree, or otherwise decide to live your life in a different way, I will respect that. I might not agree with things that you say, or do, but that doesn’t change the fact that you have a right to do those things. Period. I expect the same level of respect from you, and from everyone else. We cannot continue trying to dictate the lives of those around us based on what we think is the best way to live, regardless of whether it is or not. We have to let others make the choices that they want to make, and this has to happen in spite of our differences. Because that’s how independence is supposed to work. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about true freedom.