Freedom and Responsibility

July the 4th is a day when we in the US honor freedom.  We are not of course the only free nation in the world as we sometimes like to think.  July 4th is the date we associate with our Declaration of Independence- one of the most powerful documents ever written.  If you have never read it end to end, I suggest that you take 15 minutes to watch this amazing video performance of the Declaration of Independence produced as part of the Declaration of Independence Road Trip and the Declare Yourself project.


Much of what the Declaration describes, and what we celebrate, is freedom from unreasonable control.  Freedom from meddling on the part of the government or even each other.  Freedeom is also expressed in the form of what the authors called “inalienable rights.”  Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are named specifically.  But as many have pointed out, freedom is not free.  The price paid however is not only in the blood of those who have fought to win and protect it, but those willing to raise their voices and lend their energy in fights against injustice here at home.

And Responsibility

Morgan Freeman, in his very eloquent introduction, talks about the Declaration as aspirational.  It is the struggle to be true to the principals of the document, still going on all these years later, that makes it such an inspiration.  We want to be the country that the Declaration describes.  And with the freedom so hard won comes responsibility.  The responsibility to engage in constructive change rather than finger pointing.  The freedom to disagree with the government’s policy comes with an obligation to engage in constructive conflict rather than diatribe.

Given the polarity in our current political climate, no matter which party is in office, about half of the country will be unhappy with their policies.  At the extremes, we have been known to express that displeasure by either taking to the streets in protest and even riot, or by pointing a finger of blame in the media and demonizing the people in office.  On this July the 4th, I strive to remember that ours is not a struggle against a foreign despot any longer.  We do not have the luxury of castigating a foreign power for their use of our land and property.  We would do well to remember that the government is not a “they”.  It is us- and “us”.  It is an extension of our will and our freedom to  vote-even if we did not vote for those in office.

Freedom to Lead

As a student of leadership, I look at the responsibility and opportunity that we all have to lead in a land with freedoms that many around the world cannot even imagine.  Yes, I have the freedom to use my liberty for purely personal gain.  Those freedoms allow me to take to the airwaves with diatribe and vitriol, to report only the facts that suit my point of view and even to foment anger and revolution.  My own hope and vision is that we will, each of us as leaders in a land full of leaders, will use our freedom to engage differently.

Here is my challenge to you and to myself on this July 4th.

Find someone whose politics and beliefs about our country’s place in the world are different from yours- really different.  Then listen to them.  Really listen.  Give up the need to be right in favor of the hunger to understand.  Let go of the need to convert them in favor of the opportunity to help them understand.  Then do what our freedoms allow: Shake hands, thank them, and consider what you have learned about both points of view.

So by all means, celebrate freedom on the 4th.  Remember the vigilance and sacrifice that won it and protects it.  But also remember that leadership is about taking repsonsibility to engage.  Sitting in judgement and sarcastically demonizing the government may be entertaining- but it does not create understanding.