The current news has us upset, dismayed, offended, alarmed, and outraged by what is happening in Ukraine. The images we see every day as Russia continues its efforts to overtake the Ukrainian country and its millions of citizens activates something almost primal within us as a people living in a country that defines itself as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
I’m sure the Ukrainians cherish freedom or they wouldn’t be dying in an effort to save their country. This unprovoked, vicious attack activates our deep-seated beliefs in human rights, including what we embrace as the unalienable rights we have to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in our Declaration of Independence.
Here are some things I discovered as I searched the web on the concept of freedom and the related concepts of liberty and human rights. I think it is important to differentiate between individual freedoms and societal freedoms and how these intersect and sometimes cause conflicts between and among individuals and groups.
According to the website Warriors Way there are three types of freedom: freedom from the constraints of society, freedom to do what we want to do, and freedom to be, defined as “a freedom not just to do what we want but a freedom to be who we were meant to be.” While these may be true, they also seem to promote a kind of self-centered even narcissistic set of beliefs and behaviors.
With freedom comes responsibilities. Think about young children who believe they have the right to indulge in anything they want: to eat unhealthy but tasty food, stay up until all hours, not do homework or chores, take someone else’s toys, cheat in order to win at a game. Part of our job as parents and caregivers is to merge the idea of freedom with responsibilities to obey rules, honor boundaries and respect the rights of others. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” Nelson Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
I suggest if we are going to promote and cherish freedom, we need to respect the rights of others. To do this we need to explore the concept of human rights.
As a bit of a history lesson about efforts to promote human rights, in 539 B.C. “The armies of Cyrus the Great, the first king of ancient Persia, conquered the city of Babylon. But it was his next actions that marked a major advance for Man. He freed the slaves, declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and established racial equality. These and other decrees were recorded on a baked-clay cylinder in the Akkadian language with cuneiform script. Known today as the Cyrus Cylinder, this ancient record has now been recognized as the world’s first charter of human rights. It is translated into all six official languages of the United Nations and its provisions parallel the first four Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
During the current pandemic we have witnessed some of the ways individual rights have collided with the idea of collective rights. Consider some information from the following articles, one by Tyler Stovall entitled Liberty’s Discontents: The Contested History of Freedom that says, “Ah, freedom! Few ideals in human history have been so cherished—or so controversial. The United States, in particular, has built its identity around the idea of freedom, from the Bill of Rights, enshrining various freedoms in the law of the land, to the giant statue of Lady Liberty in New York Harbor. And yet—interestingly, for such a foundational ideal—freedom has throughout history represented both the means to an end and the end itself. We wish to be free to pursue our most cherished goals in life, to make money as we will, to share our lives with whom we will, to live where we choose. Freedom empowers our individual desires, but at the same time it structures how we live with other individuals in large, complex societies.”
And a second article: According to the Texas A & M University’s website “The Covid-19 pandemic has raised challenging questions about the balance between protecting personal liberty and promoting the collective good. We are now in a situation where expressing normally morally acceptable personal freedoms (such as mixing freely with others, pursuing everyday activities, not wearing a face mask) can contribute to creating catastrophic threats to the wellbeing of others. How much should government constrain citizens’ otherwise-rightful activities to lower the risk very serious harms to others?”
It is important to consider how we engage our children in these explorations if we are to sustain the freedoms so many have worked and sacrificed for. I invite you to consider the following:
- What messages do we want to transmit to our children so they too become more aware of what is happening in Ukraine?
- What do we need them to know and appreciate about freedom, our history, our beliefs, and our struggles where we have fallen short of the ideals of liberty and human rights?
- Discover and monitor how your children’s schools are addressing this time of international crisis.
- Consider the conversations we need to have to help our children, and remind us, of what freedom is and why we treasure it as individuals and as a country.
- What videos, movies, museums, websites, books, songs do we need to bring to our children’s attention?
- How can we help our children become interested and engaged in the fight against the attack on Ukraine or practices in our own country or throughout the world where human rights are in jeopardy? Consider how you can provide practical ways for them to help? One way to find reputable organizations taking donations is to Google “How to Donate to Ukraine” and select one that you recognize such as www.UNICEFUSA.org. We can help children become critical thinkers and careful consumers so that any donations you make will be used to bring aid to those suffering Ukraine, or elsewhere.
The concept of freedom is more complex than I first believed. Exploring it and related concepts is well worth the efforts. There are hundreds of resources available online to provide information and inspiration that can guide us as we focus on exploring freedom and why we need to preserve, protect and cherish it. Also, consider things like museums, books, poems, music, and movies to help make deep and life-long impressions on our children and continue to inspire gratitude for our own freedom and all the sacrifices made through the many years to establish and maintain our beloved democracy.
Invitation for Reflection
- How have you reacted to what is happening in Ukraine?
- How do you define freedom? How and why is freedom important to you?
- What did you learn as a result of reading this blog?
- What are some specific things you can do to promote freedom? Inspire others, especially the children in your life?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute