Growing up in the 70’s, I recall hearing “It’s a free world,” often. It was typically a response said with a tone of defiance. Whenever I heard it, I cringed; something did not sit right with me, because it sounded more like “Go fuck yourself!” than a joyous expression of humanity. As one who has always loved being unrestrained, I have enjoyed the ability to move about with my body, think and express myself in an assortment of ways, and live with passion. Those times when I was not able to do so was crushing to my spirit. Being free was my source for joy, unencumbered expression, and the communication of my unique self, not an opportunity to be rude, inconsiderate, nor offensive, which is what seemed to be the goal of those most often heard saying “It’s a free world.”
Liberty means the ability to have absolute freedom to do whatever you wish, with the caveat that you not jeopardize another’s liberty. In its most basic form, that idea is summed up with the Non-aggression Principle. http://
However, I dare say that we can take it even further. The Bible states in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” I shared a version of that quote with my very dear friend, Derrick J, a couple of years ago and despite not being a fan of Paul who is credited with writing it, he loved the concept and agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment. (He has the liberty to agree with what someone may say even if he doesn’t like the person. Inherent in that is wisdom.) It is easy to understand when you consider that one is free to eat junk food, but it is not in one’s best interest. But what about when it is simply abstaining from eating meat because your guest is a vegetarian?
Somehow people have lost their way on this concept however. The act may be something as small as using foul language in the presence of mixed company, claiming, “It’s my party, I can do what I want,” even though it offends the very guests you are hosting, or being late for appointments (something I have been guilty of and am successfully overcoming). Or it can be something far more egregious. I’m free to huck loogies onto the sidewalk, but it is unsightly to others; I’m free to have trash in my yard and not maintain my home, but it offends my neighbor who has to look at it; I’m free to call all those who believe contrary to me “Idiots,” but it is unkind.
Ultimately, isn’t it in my own best interest to be thoughtful, kind, and considerate, exercising the most rigorous of self-government? I have the best chance of having the most friends, the most peaceful existence, and the greatest opportunity for a network of people who will treat me with the same consideration. So liberty is not simply having the ability to do whatever you want; it is also having the liberty to do what is good.
I was challenged by TSA while on my way back from Las Vegas in December when I helped Travelin’ Val with her bags. She has spina bifida and quite clearly could not remove the things from her chair before being searched “for everyone’s safety.” Despite there being 9 agents within 30 feet of her and a near empty airport, not a single one of them lifted a finger to help her. I assured her that once I was on the other side, I would also lift her bags back onto her chair and that she would not be left alone. And for that act of charity, I was rewarded with a second and third search by these same agents who claimed that only someone with something to hide would help a person like that. I was horrified. I asked one of the women why she didn’t help her herself and she said, “Because I don’t have to.” Now that is what happens when people look to an authority outside of themselves to determine their course of action.
We must be diligent in our efforts to stand firm in our humanity. And that means maintaining the dialog of respect for others that is outlined by the Non-aggression Principle, as well as denying ourselves when there is an opportunity to treat someone else to a kindness, convenience, or charity that does not compromise our integrity or principles. Rest assured that if you are a vegetarian and a guest in my home, there will be food prepared special for you; if you are Muslim, we will not be eating pork; and if you are a recovering addict, I will not be lighting up a joint in front of you and will be serving raspberry lemonade and not my near famous whisky sours.