Freedom is a beautiful thing. It allows each of us to decide for ourselves what we believe. Of course there are certain restrictions to our liberties. We agree as a society that it is innately wrong to murder or steal. There are extremes of very bad behavior that virtually all of us abhor. Beyond that there is often room for differences of opinion and for the most part we respect and protect one another’s right to divergent thinking. The bedrock of our free society is based upon the notion that we are entitled to our opinions. We generally have a “to each his own” way of getting along in a highly diverse society.
Now and again we get things wrong and yet we find ways of excusing our egregious decisions. For far too long, for example, we Americans prided ourselves in being a great and just nation while still allowing members of our society to own other human beings as slaves. We found any number of reasons to explain away this barbaric practice but in reality it was always wrong and there were individuals and groups who took a hard line and insisted that we had to rid ourselves of slavery for all time, not in bits and pieces. These people were often viewed as being kooky religious zealots, trouble makers with strange ideas. It took courage for them to voice their complaints publicly and for the most part they were viewed as outcasts and pariahs. Still they believed so strongly in their cause that they would not be stilled. From one generation to the next their message was passed down to an ever growing number of converts until one day the most powerful man in the country joined their ranks and boldly declared the emancipation of all enslaved people even while a civil war divided the country and threatened to tear it apart.
Those individual voices that grew into a collective roar mattered. The people who spoke out against slavery did so with the knowledge that they were fighting an uphill battle but they were willing to bear the consequences nonetheless. They eventually wrought powerful change by following the dictates of their consciences. It is a beautiful thing to watch souls who are willing to fight for the rights of people that they do not even know. We have seen them parading through the streets of our country with their signs and their slogans time and again. There were suffragettes who pointed out the absurdity of denying the right to vote to half of the population of the United States. There were workers who insisted on safe working conditions, fair wages and reasonable work hours. The civil rights movement of the nineteen sixties focused a lens on the plight of fellow Americans who were still segregated from society and denied the most basic of rights for no other reason than the color of their skin. Time again peaceful demonstrations, editorials and declarations have helped our country to move to closer and closer approximations of true justice for all. It is the American way and it is beautiful.
Last weekend millions of women gathered together to voice their own concerns. There were many different points of view, some of which were radical indeed, but mostly the cause was about a growing belief that some among us are still being marginalized. The march highlighted the reality that ours is still an imperfect nation with problems that must be addressed with compassion. It was a beautiful sight to see so many loving and deeply well intentioned women along using their First Amendment right to gather together to shed a light on the issues that disturb them. This is democracy in action and if it bothers us just a bit to hear what they had to say then their march was effective because it caused us to think. Hopefully this demonstration of freedom will move us to begin a dialogue about our commonalities and our differences. Protests are almost always conversation starters that force us to think about the way we do things and make us wonder if an issue is serious enough to bring about change. We should never be afraid of entering the fray of controversial topics but we must also do so with a sense of respect and a willingness to consider every possible idea before closing our minds. Otherwise we will only find ourselves fighting senseless battles with one another.
Hidden inside the barbs being tossed between those who applaud the Women’s March and those who found it to be onerous are a multitude of issues each of which should be considered individually. Some women admittedly went because they were disappointed that Donald Trump is now our president. They abhor his attitudes toward women and wanted to make it very clear that they are insulted that such a man would be allowed to lead our nation. Others were more concerned with specific causes whether it be the environment or the treatment of minority groups and religions. Most walked to demand equity for women in the workplace and with regard to opportunities for advancement. There were of course those who believe that every woman has a right to healthcare and contraception, among which is abortion.
The reality is that we can’t react to the Women’s March as a whole. We must instead unpack each of the issues that were noted on the signs and in the speeches. It is in reality a very complex situation and in all probability even those who were part of that sea of pink will admit that they did not agree with everything that they saw or heard. To fully appreciate the magnitude of this new revolution we must be willing to suspend our generalizations and discuss each issue individually. We also need to commend the participants for their courage which is in keeping with the way that positive change has been wrought in our country time and again. In turn we should ask the ladies to demonstrate a willingness to understand the ways in which some of their fellow citizens may differ from them. If we begin the discussions without breaking out into a state of war as we have done far too many times in the past perhaps we will be able to finally put some of these important issues to rest.
Religious and political beliefs are highly individual and personal. As such they tend to elicit very strong emotions for which people are more than willing to go to battle. I for one am strongly pro life for example but I understand that we have to find ways to balance the needs of our diverse ways of thinking with what seems most right and just. We have to ease the tensions between church and state because herein lie many of our most inflammatory arguments. I have always believed that we must be careful to keep the two institutions very separate particularly when it comes to using government funds.
It is important that we learn to celebrate the liberties that we have. When we see a peaceful protest we should not be angered but rather joyful because that is the embodiment of of the freedoms that we cherish. We should use such occasions to find ways of bridging the gaps that exist between us rather than hurling hateful rhetoric at one another. Of course the tolerance of differences must go both ways if we are to be truly effective.
Last Saturday night my extended family celebrated the birthday of a delightful little girl who turned six years old. She is an innocent who joyfully reveled in the celebration that was just for her. There was a great deal of love in the room in spite of the fact that we all know that we possess a wide variety of philosophies whether speaking of religion or politics. We are able to voice our beliefs and still fully embrace each other.
I’d like to think that my family is a microcosm of our nation. From the same parents we branched out into many different directions and came to different conclusions about the best way to live. We may argue in support of our particular philosophies but in the end we realize that our differences matter far less than our overriding love. This is where we need to begin as a nation, understanding that it is natural and actually quite good that we have a diversity of ideas. Let us embrace all of the voices without preordained prejudice for among them may be the ideas that will ultimately make us better and stronger. Demonstrating our freedom is a beautiful thing.