Should We Limit Freedoms?

Every time I hear the Star Spangled Banner at a hockey game, my eyes fill with tears.

It’s silly, I know. But when I hear about the freedoms we take for granted and the echo of fans cheering in the arena at key lines – the land of the free…and the home of the brave… – I get chills. We are so lucky, and we don’t even know it.

In yesterday’s New York Times, David Brooks wrote a compelling op-ed about the balance of freedom to restriction. He asserted that “the balance between freedom and restraint has been thrown out of whack. People no longer even have a language to explain why freedom should sometimes be limited.”

Huh. Gives you something to think about, doesn’t it?

Years ago, a therapist once told me that relationships are like a dance. He posited that there is a comfortable distance within every relationship, and when one partner moves closer or further, the other adjusts accordingly. 

Perhaps it’s the same way with freedoms? When anything goes, does anything have meaning?

Or are restrictions, rules and regulations about power and control, no matter how you slice it?

Brooks quotes Alexis de Tocqueville and Emile Durkheim as saying that “if people are left perfectly free to pursue their individual desires, they will discover their desires are unlimited and unquenchable. They’ll turn inward and become self-absorbed. Society will become atomized. You’ll end up with more loneliness and less community.”

I would say that perfectly characterizes our society today. And perhaps our world.

We are more in touch than ever, and people are more alone than ever. There’s no more coffee over the back fence with a chatty neighbor whose face is familiar and proximity a comfort. There is instead hurling horrific insults and anonymous taunts in the virtual ether, terrorizing individuals and tearing at the fabric of our very humanity.

We can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone – and no one will stand in our way.

Most often, though, no one will break our fall, either.

If we do not seek community, contribute to community, build community and give to others, we have no connections. You have to give to receive. And it’s better not to do it so you get something back; it’s better when you give because it just feels so good and it’s what you believe so you do it. The return is just a gift.

As the Jewish holiday of Passover ended last night for Jews in the Diaspora (it was over Monday night in Israel), I am reminded of the question that arises every year at the Seder table: what does it mean to be free?

My eldest son responded to his religious relatives, “Freedom means responsibility.”

He read the answer in a book. It’s the answer that is expected.

But what does it really mean?

This thing we take for granted, this ability to envision a future and a life for ourselves and then make it come true, the ability to wander into the wilderness, to pack up and move somewhere new, to befriend or unfriend, to live and let live – what is the benefit?

And what is the cost?

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