My 12-year-old son looked up rebelliously from a flower bed he was weeding, his face flushed with exertion and firm intent to speak his mind. "The other kids don’t have to weed flower beds. They’re out playing baseball, and I don’t think it’s fair that I can’t go, too!"
"Well, son," I said quietly, remembering earnest rebellions of my own childhood, "you did agree that you would do this chore each week. You said that you wanted to do your part to help the family; and you were mighty happy to earn some extra money, too. Right?"
"Sure, mom," he nodded impatiently, "but not when the guys need me to play shortstop!" And he gave me a look which spoke eloquently of a 12-year-old’s opinion of such obviously unfair tactics as reasonableness and logic.
This seemed to be the proper moment to give my lad a small (and somewhat sneaky) gift which we had acquired for just this sort of situation.
He reacted with cautious interest when 1 returned from the house and handed him a tiny box. Scrubbing his earth-stained hands on his pants, he opened the box and took out a silver disk about the size of a 50c piece, and slowly turned it over and back again. On one side was engraved the word FREEDOM; on the other side the word RESPONSIBILITY.
He studied the shining coin for awhile, and then grinned with elaborate mock resignation. "Guess there’s supposed to be a lesson here, hmm?"
"Maybe," I smiled. "Know what it might be?"
He thought a moment and then ventured: "Could be that if I want the ‘freedom’ to play baseball, I ought to take care of my ‘responsibility’ for the weeds, first?"
"Could be," I nodded. "Maybe if you keep that in your pocket it might help explain some other things, too, as time goes on. Freedom always has that other side. Freedom of speech carries with it the responsibility not to malign or slander another by your speech, for instance. It isn’t a true coin without both sides—just a counterfeit."
The Cat stuffed the coin carefully into his pocket and said a bit ruefully, "Oh, well—I guess some guys do carry good luck pieces!"
I grinned back at him. "You might find that this one can be a real ‘good luck piece’ if you use it to help yourself think."
"Mothers!" he muttered—but he was smiling as he resumed his weeding.
An Important Lesson
An unimportant little episode? Not at all. There was an extremely important basic concept involved here; and this was one step we were taking to try to teach it to our oldest child. The relationship between freedom and responsibility is one that has been essential to the formation and growth of this nation. It must be a balanced, equal relationship if the value and strength of either is to be maintained—let alone increased. This relationship is also one which can only be maintained by individuals; for to attempt to delegate or refuse to accept individual responsibility is to lose freedom proportionately—not only for oneself but for all others as well. One cannot legislate away the burden of responsibility without also automatically legislating away an equal degree of personal control—and "personal control" is simply another way of saying "freedom."
It is easy to understand a threat to freedom when it is a matter of someone bursting over the horizon, shooting up the town, and killing or capturing the citizens. It is easy then to understand and recognize the need for assuming immediate personal responsibility for the safeguarding of one’s freedom. It is far more difficult to recognize a threat to freedom which comes gradually, insidiously, and through legalized peaceful means, enacted by our own people and loudly claimed to be "for our own good." But the threat is just as real in either case!
A long careful look at the conditions under which we now live in this greatest citadel of freedom will disclose an amazing lack of personal freedom, compared with the degree we once had. There is literally no phase of living which is not controlled in one way or another by some branch of the state—from the moment we bite into our breakfast toast (made of parity-priced wheat, and spread with price-controlled butter) and send our children off to school (to compulsory attendance, usually at a government-controlled school) and draw our paycheck (upon which all sorts of compulsory deductions have already been levied and withheld) and drive home (on multi-billion-dollar tax-built roads) to a rent-controlled or government-subsidized dwelling—and so on and on and on.
Our Sad Departure
When we speak, rather smugly and complacently, about our revered American heritage of individual freedom, we are not speaking of our present way of life. When we, step by step, legislated away our personal responsibility to handle the various problems of living, just so, step by step, we departed from that heritage of freedom. Granted, many so-called "benefits" have been gained—degrees of material security from birth to death—but at what a price! The price is not only in terms of lost personal freedom—seldom missed until it is gone entirely—but also in more easily understood terms of dollars and cents.
Bureaucracy has always been a most expensive method of accomplishing anything, in contrast to the accomplishments of free competitive enterprise. A glance at our soaring national debt, the rate of inflation, the tax burden, should demonstrate quite clearly this hard dollars-and-cents price.
But there is another price we are paying, the disastrous price of gradual, inevitable loss of individual initiative and integrity—the loss of the individual sense of responsibility. Without these traits, respected and put into practice, we cannot hope to regain personal freedom and all it entails. Without these traits, we face deeper and deeper immersion into a collectivistic way of life.
Under any socialized scheme, there is less and less material or psychological incentive to attempt to develop the creative ability necessary for progress. Where is the incentive to excel, individually, under a system which guarantees the same benefits to all, regardless of effort or ability? Also, moral integrity is inevitably lost when the whole societal emphasis is on delegating personal responsibility and placing it in the hands of the impersonal state. Moral integrity is a matter of individual growth, and cannot be legislated into existence.
Now, if we adults of this generation are practicing less and less personal responsibility, then we probably are teaching and emphasizing this trait less and less to our children. It seems reasonable that children thus untrained in the importance of initiative, integrity, and responsibility would certainly be apt to demonstrate less respect for others, less respect for property rights, less respect for the laws which were established to protect these rights, and less respect for the social courtesies. The term is "juvenile delinquency."
By the same token, children who have been taught respect for the rights of others, and have learned self-respect through initiative and achievement, are more apt to enter adulthood better prepared to enrich and enjoy their own lives and to help stem the tide of collectivism sweeping our country.
Most of us will quietly continue to try to teach ourselves and our children to understand freedom, to search after knowledge and wisdom, to love our Creator, to respect all men—and ourselves; to attempt to improve ourselves at all times, and to take humble pride in creative accomplishment. We will try to teach our children and ourselves that freedom must be earned, and guarded carefully; that it is a privilege which carries with it a real and continuous responsibility.
We will try to remember that these are learned concepts—not instinctive knowledge; that especially in this socialized society in which we live it is necessary to teach these concepts, deliberately and carefully, if we hope to prepare our children to face adult situations and problems in a capable and responsible manner.
And so, in our family, as an aid to learning, we each carry a small coin. One side says FREEDOM. One side says RESPONSIBILITY. We call it the coin of freedom.
What’s the Difference?
If it is wrong for a politician to buy votes with his own money, what makes him a great humanitarian to be backed by the churches when he buys millions of votes with other people’s money? Is bribery in the one case right and the other wrong? If so, what makes it so?
The Rev. Kenneth W. Sollitt, Four Foundations of Freedom