Freedom is a state of mind

Published 7:49 am Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The fireworks end. The charcoal in the grill flickers out, and folks return to work. Another July 4th celebration comes and goes.

This morning as I thought about the holiday and all the talk about appreciating our independence and freedom, the word “ freedom” jumped out at me.

What do we mean when we say we are free? Is freedom the same thing to every person who expresses gratitude for its existence?

Of course being a word person, I looked up the definition. Boy, there are many meanings for freedom, ranging from a political definition to a spiritual one. The most frequent statement is that freedom is a state of being, which is interesting since state of being can vary from person to person.

For some, I suppose, freedom is, as the definition says, “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.” That sounds good unless someone’s action is against our laws. Then, of course, that person’s idea of freedom is not going to fly with the populous and not only is there constraint but also some “restraint” is probably going to happen.

Liberation is another definition of freedom, which is good unless liberation is not what you seek. For someone going through the end of a relationship or the loss of a job, freedom might not look so good. So it seems freedom is tricky to define because people view its meaning through their unique life experiences.

Of course on the Fourth of July, we look at the bigger picture, at how living in a country that recognizes the importance of freedom is a gift we enjoy every day. Then the question becomes do we live the way we say we appreciate having the opportunity to live?

Ah, now we step out of the big picture into a more personal view of living in a free country. If we really place value on liberty, justice and freedom for all people, we have to honor it in our day-to-day lives, not just celebrate it once a year with watermelons and marching bands.

Living the dream of America challenges us to accept our differences. That touches on yet another definition of freedom, “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”

Do we practice that beyond waving flags and singing anthems? Are we open to those who choose beliefs and lifestyles that differ from ours? Is their right to think as they want something we feel deserves defending and protecting? Or, do we pick and choose those we feel deserve freedom, and limit our choice to those who most closely resemble us and our ideas?

Recently I read a phrase that popped into my head today as I thought about our country and what we celebrated this past Monday. The author used the words “unified diversity” to describe a way of looking at life.

To me, unified diversity, as it relates to our country, is the recognition that under the umbrella of freedom, we are citizens of this wonderful experiment in liberty called America but we also retain our individuality and are able to choose how we live as long as we are not harming another.

It is that allowance for and acceptance of diversity that the founders of this country sought when they declared independence. If we lose touch with the understanding that strength comes from our differences, we turn our backs on the founding principle behind these United States of America.

We came to be a beacon of freedom in the world because those who dreamed of living in unified diversity dared to stand up and declare the equality of all people, the right of every person to know liberty and to pursue happiness.

That is what we must remember, what we should continue to celebrate and to embrace when the fireworks end and another Fourth of July comes and goes.