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We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.
~ Barack Obama
President Barack Obama needs no introduction here. Suffice it to say that he is missed for his grace, his indefatigable spirit, and his love for his fellow man. The concept of freedom has been on my mind, and I find these words spoken by Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 to be uplifting.
In a day and age when the culture of entitlement threatens to banish the ideals of duty and service to the nether reaches of the universe, it is encouraging to read these words or watch them being spoken by President Obama. It is more than significant that he begins with “We, the People…” since there is no ‘me’ in democracy or community.
One of the reasons our modern western societies are wracked by violence and crime is because people have lost sight of these values. Those who feel disenfranchised and turn to anti-social behavior are entirely responsible for their poor choices. The rest of us are responsible for allowing their plight to exist in the first place. How can that be?
Look closely at these words: “… a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism…” speak to us about our shared role in a free, democratic society. Our western societies are among the wealthiest and best educated in the world, and yet we have homeless people, embittered unemployed workers and professionals, and outraged victims of racism and other forms of discrimination. Among some, the response to these people is utter disdain and demands to quit complaining and get a job. I know there are some lazy freeloaders in this world, but let’s not label all of those feeling disenfranchised as such.
I have the right to do the best I can both for myself and for my family. As Obama reminds us, the flip side of that coin is the set of responsibilities that comes with my citizenship. No matter how successful I become, the naked truth is that those achievements were not gained just by my own efforts. Both my formal education and my socialization were provided for me – by my parents, the taxpayers who provided the institutions, and the many adults who had a hand in forming the man I am today. I did not choose my family – I lucked out. I did not run that household, my parents made the decisions and provided the necessities of life. There would have been no food on the table if the people of our small town didn’t support my dad’s business. My Dad’s grocery store didn’t have a huge corporation behind it. The customers stayed with him because he was honest and fair. They looked to him for their grocery needs, and he looked to them for loyalty and support. No one operated alone.
Some of us were born into good circumstances while some were not. So what is a caring community going to do about that? Handouts are not the answer because they violate the dignity of the recipients. Collectively, we have enormous intelligence, resources, and wealth. Why is it that we can’t figure out how to reduce the number of disenfranchised citizens to almost zero? We can fly into space, invent amazing technology, but we can’t resolve a problem that has plagued mankind down through the ages? Can’t or won’t?
Obama’s last words give me a chill: “… a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.“
Freedom without adherence to the moral and legal obligations that come with citizenship is unworthy. It is empty and self-defeating. We are better than that. Donald Trump exhorted the American citizens to “make America great again.” Why stop there? Shoulder to shoulder, we can stand together to figure out the solutions and give each other the support to make them happen. Let’s make humanity great again!