The right to act or speak as one wishes. Not to be enslaved. Not to be subjected to a despotic government. These are some of the definitions for freedom we may be thinking about on this July 4th. But if we take freedom to mean we get to do anything we want even if it harms another, we’ve gone off the rails. When selfishness accompanies freedom is it really freedom? We don’t have true freedom without this rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” From 6th century BC Confucius to Moses to Christ Jesus, the Golden Rule, is found in some form in all major religions, philosophies, and cultures. It is the basis of universal morality. People really can’t get along without this truth.
In a nation that in less than six months has managed to incur 280 (and counting) mass shootings, isn’t it about time we seriously search for our moral compass? Nearly a decade ago we watched as a killer besieged Sandy Hook Elementary School resulting in 27 deaths, but even the murder of young innocents did not rouse us to prevent similar occurrences. Some years later, 17 students at Stoneman Douglas High School were killed. We’ve seen disgruntled employees kill co-workers. We’ve watched blacks killed by police. We’ve seen Asians killed merely because they were Asian. Georgia’s secretary of state and his family continue to receive death threats that began after the 2020 election when he simply did his job defending a fair election. Angry passengers recently attacked and injured airline personnel. Death threats to members of Congress have doubled this year. The list could go on and on. And let us not leave out January 6th’s insurrection against the capital when thousands rampaged and killed to stop our government’s right–its freedom–to function in accordance with our Constitution. We could not even manage a national investigation to find the causes behind this attempt to destroy our democracy. Where’s the freedom in that?! We need to face the fact that we’ve become an angry, violent nation, especially over the past four years. We like to say, “But it isn’t who we really are.” But I wonder if it is who we’ve become.
According to the Pew Research Center, 83% of countries polled had no respect for our former President, considered by many the most hate-filled in U.S. history; but 75% of the same countries support our current President, known for his humanity and compassion. Perhaps this indicates that we’re learning–again–that truth and kindness matter. The U.S. used to be a model of unselfishness, caring about other nations–think of our efforts to aid throughout WWII. But we’ve slipped from that place of international admiration. Now only 17% of other countries believe the U.S. is a good example for others. This last sentence needs to wake us up. We’ve gone from being the good guys, ready to help others in defense against Fascism, autocracy, corruption, whatever evil arose; but since 2017 we’re more divided, angry, selfish, dishonest, autocratic. We seem unable to cooperate to get anything done for the good of our own nation let alone others, like solving infrastructure and climate change problems. Some erroneously conflate the second amendment with the right to carry military assault weapons into theatres, churches, and shopping centers, ignoring the fact that 75% of Americans favor stricter gun regulations. Many in Congress are self-centered, interested only in their re-election and gaining individual power for themselves rather than listening to those they represent.
There is nothing righteous about selfishness. But there is right in unselfishness. The Golden Rule leads to working together to actually solve problems. This is not Pollyanna stuff! It is an essential law to live by. We are here to love our fellow human beings, animals, nature, the earth, the diversity of this amazing world we’ve been given. This is why we are here. There is no other reason for being.
Though blessed by a world of abundant good–beauty, sustenance, intelligence, inspiring sunsets, dynamic oceans, rolling fields, diverse species, grand ideas, brilliant solutions–we also live in a world in which people are starving, living in poverty, diseased, without opportunity for education or improvement. We know it’s the job of those who have much to give much. We could help but too often don’t. We get caught up in our own lives, in collecting temporal things, in accumulation, in entertainment, in seeking personal power. Self-absorbed, we get angry when things don’t go our way. We forget our reason for being is to love others. We forget who we really are: God’s image and likeness, capable, too, of seeing everyone as God’s image and likeness.
I grew up in the 1950s when it was normal for parents to instill morality in their children, to teach them how to be good, kind, truthful, loving; to include Sunday School, or similar experiences, in their lives. The 10 commandments, beatitudes, and other wisdom teachings were common in families–and they weren’t preachy, dominating, nor evangelizing–merely establishing some basics on how to be a decent human being. As well as expecting obedience, schools expected students to be kind and to tell the truth. Neighborhood moms cared for all the kids on their block, looked after them even if they weren’t their own offspring. Certainly, there were situations in which such values were not readily practiced, but overall, a foundation of goodness generally permeated life. Have we lost something valuable since then? Am I merely a dinosaur to care that love and truth be lived? Am I the only one to believe our freedom can’t come without these words: “Know the truth and the truth shall make you free”? Am I the only one who believes that when an election is held and the winner wins, it seems we ought not lie about it and claim the loser won? Am I the only one who thinks it seems right that a billion-dollar corporation pay its due taxes just as the line worker and other employees do? Am I the only one who accepts people’s diversity, wanting to honor their innate goodness? Am I the only one who thinks we can do better caring for our youngest and oldest, our poorest, our weakest? Am I the only one who believes we must find a cooperative means of governing ourselves? Of course not. It’s within every man, woman, and child to care.
But it has to start with each individual. I have to try to love the hateful neighbor, the difficult boss, the lying politician before I can expect anyone else to. If I want to see governmental change it is up to me to help elect honest candidates and to contact our Congressmen about important issues. If I want to see fine adults it is up to me to take the time to give my children good rules by which to live, to help them find solutions to problems, to show them how to work, to clean their room, wash a car, make friends, appreciate nature, grow a garden, not waste food or things, not expect to buy and accumulate stuff, to be and do good, to think of others.
Today take that long walk in a beautiful park you’ve been desiring. As you walk, think about the good you see and know and have. Know the truth that makes you free, the freedom that comes with unselfishly living the Golden Rule.
About the artwork: Almost daily I walked this trail with my beloved dogs–first Zermatt and Geneva, two gorgeous Bernese Mountain Dogs, later with Harley, our rescue Bernese Mountain Dog, Heidi, our Landseer Newfoundland, and Olaf, our sweet Bernese Mountain Dog. How easy it is to love a good dog, a beautiful trail, a granddaughter, an inspiring idea! How much more challenging to love all human beings.