“Freedom” is Not the Right Word
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“Freedom” is Not the Right Word • Posted: Jul 03, 2021 09:04:07Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

The US will be celebrating Independence Day this weekend, the official commemoration of our founding fathers’ declaration of independence from England on July 4, 1776. As always, there will be music and picnics at the beach, gatherings of families and friends, parades, sporting events, and lots of flag waving, all ending with elaborate fireworks shooting into night skies. And usually, most of us will come away feeling we belong to something very significant: a community, a country, that values, cherishes, and protects individual worth and individual freedom.

However, a funny thing has happened along the way. Over the years, the meaning of the word “freedom” has changed.

It isn’t all that unusual for the meaning of words to change. Since 1776, lots of things have changed. It shouldn’t surprise us the meaning of some of the words used back then may have changed, too. Back then, “freedom” meant escape from the dictates of a King. It meant gaining self-determination in both one’s personal associations and one’s business activities with no obligation to work for or pay tribute to a King.

These days, most US citizens, and most hoping to become US citizens, still understand “freedom” to mean escape from oppression with greater self-determination in personal associations and business activities. But increasingly, there seems to be a divergence between citizens who consider “freedom” to include responsibility to one’s fellow citizens, to the environment, and to the institutions that preserve our freedoms, and citizens who refuse responsibility for anything beyond pursuit of their own personal wishes and desires. That divergence of understanding for the word “freedom” seems to underlie a great deal of the discord, deadlock, and division dominating today’s political discourse. I suggest we need a different word. We need a word that puts us all on the same page heading in mostly the same general direction again. I suggest we consider replacing individual “freedom” with individual “agency”, understanding from the outset that the meaning of the word “agency” includes both freedom to decide and responsible accounting of the consequences for any and all individually initiated actions we may take.

With “freedom” in mind, I punch the wall, my anger gains focus, and maybe I feel some relief. With “agency” in mind, the wall gets dented, my hand hurts, the neighbors get alarmed, I look stupid, and whatever I’m angry at doesn’t get resolved. It’s a whole different way of looking at things. It’s a completely different objective, a different end-point, a shift from resolving personal emotion in the short term to imagining a change producing action that mollifies and potentially resolves emotion in the long run for everyone and anything that might be affected. It’s self-determination with vision, vision that includes responsible accounting for consequence.

Now, are all US citizens and applicants to US citizenship mentally capable of envisioning consequence, consequence beyond appeasement of their own emotions? And even if they are, would they or will they? That really is the question. But, even if some are incapable and others won’t, “agency” seems a much more worthy reason to celebrate than does “freedom” with no consideration of, accounting for, or the taking of responsibility for consequence. Rather, in celebrating “agency”, we celebrate the consequence of our ability to work together toward mutual benefit. We celebrate community that values each of us as individuals. We celebrate the promise we make to each other that all of our decisions and every one of our actions will contribute to consequences we can all enjoy.

May the intricacies of nature come alive for you this summer, and inspire lots of productive rethinking of what really matters in this life we all share.

Saturday, July 27th, 2019