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Freedom and Liberty: A Matter of Right and Responsibility

By David Scott Clegg | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-10-31 00:04
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File photo: the author David Scott Clegg.

Freedom. Liberty. Synonyms. But not the same. Limited by our own filters, distanced by degrees of definition, action.

Freedom, by definition, is "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint". And liberty as defined is simply "the state of being free; the power or scope to act as one pleases''.

Sounds similar by definition. Yet this is not what defines the essence of freedom, nor the liberties taken that challenge right with responsibility.

The freedom to act, speak, think… without restraint? As one pleases? With no limitation, no sense – common or otherwise - of the responsibility adjoined such privileged expression?

This is fundamentally challenging to the notion of freedom itself and privilege afforded. For it is a privilege to express freely. And as with all privilege should be eternally bound with the responsibility that accompanies such ability. One might even say restrained by reason alone.

Ask Felicity Huff man and the many parents and other agents who orchestrated admissions fraud through a false sense of privilege. A pattern of extreme parenthood that plagues more than Americans.

Freedom. Liberty. Synonyms indeed. But not the same.

For just because one has the freedom to think, speak, act does not mean they should take the liberty to do so. At least without vetting such through requisite reflection, wisdom. It may seem at times we have little choice but to take action, but we do. Each time. Every time. Not only the choice, but a responsibility to choose, and choose wisely.

"With great power comes great responsibility," Voltaire once reminded, words that have been echoed since in variation. And what greater power might one possess than the power to be free, and to express from there.

Power. Responsibility.

An NBA general manager can tweet indiscriminately, without care or better judgment, ignorant within the context of culture, history. And in doing so enflame an already incendiary situation. Privilege unrestrained. Sport of a different nature.

Negligence in absence of reflective intelligence. Is this the intent of freedom? And rights guaranteed through the 'constitution' of a nation in its infancy now subject to hypocrisy through liberties taken with freedoms granted. A tale of one nation. A lesson for all.

The protracted protests in Hong Kong serve to muddy further the waters of right and responsibility when viewed overseas, through varied, often limiting lenses. A right expression to some, afforded by certain freedoms. To others, an act that deprives fellow citizens within the same society of their own rights, freedoms, securities. Responsible perhaps in its intent, less so in its escalated method, losing a degree of purpose in its protest message.

For what is the value of freedom if it comes at the price of virtue? And liberty if not afforded its necessity of civility?

China. US. Such distance between. From one sweeping view to another, we find commonality in the need for responsible activity. With both views essential to better understanding, knowing, precedent to greater thinking and doing.

How righteous mankind can be. The examples are endless where freedoms are denied. And endless as well where we deny freedom the grace given through liberties taken. Is it the constraint of certain freedoms that plague the day? Or is it as much the sense of entitlement without requisite responsibility of those gifted such privilege to take care when taking liberty in its exercise?

Freedom can fatigue when privilege is abused. With the power of freedom comes the responsibility to exercise this power with reflective restraint. In our speech. In our actions. In our patterns, our expectations. Just because one has the freedom to – and with it, opportunity – does not mean they are to take liberty without discretion, without restraint. Without consideration of, for and by those as well granted such privilege. And those who seek it still.

This… This is the price of freedom…

Vigilance with intelligence. Ability with responsibility. And reason applied. Virtuous in pursuit of a more perfect union, shared future for all mankind.

A small price to pay before the bill comes due for all.

The author of The Longest Distance, Founder and Chief Executive of UNITE Education (www.uniteeducation. com), and Former Managing Director of The HEAD Foundation.

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