How Free Are You?

In America, freedom is our most revered value. We are free to live, love, and pursue our dreams. Depending upon your beliefs, these freedoms have been bestowed upon us by our creator and/or protected by our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other laws.

Yet how free do you really feel?

Much like the Liberty Bell, our most sacred symbol of freedom, our personal freedom in life often has a few cracks.

Sometimes these cracks are systemic. Recently, my little girls were playing with an interactive display at Constitution Hall in Philadelphia that asked questions about who could vote in 1800, then 1850, 1900, 1950, etc.? They couldn’t understand why women and minorities were unable to vote until more modern times. This was a poignant reminder of our country’s constant struggle to provide and protect the freedoms of all its citizens.

Sometimes the cracks are conditional. For example, two colleagues are doing equally well in business, but one comes from a wealthier family and thus “feel free” to interrupt his/her earning years to go back to business school. Our support system can say a lot as to how “free” we feel at any point in our life.

Sometimes they are programmatic. I asked a woman once if food stamps helped give her a leg up. She pointed out, “While they’re helpful, they were more like a handcuff,” as the earning limit often meant choosing between the short-term security of food benefits versus the long-term potential of a better job. This brings up the question as to whether our programs promote or limit freedom.

And finally, sometimes they are personal. A parent with young children must look out for their children’s needs first and foremost, putting their own dreams on hold and limiting the risk one is willing to take. Responsibility almost always trumps liberty.

So while we should hold our freedom dear, we should never presume that it gives everyone the same express ticket to move up in life.

Cherish the bell, for sure. But understand the cracks.

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