To enjoy freedom, we have to control ourselves. — Virginia Wollf
There are so many stories I could tell about the things I observed and heard within the walls of my classroom over the last three decades.
The first half of my career, I taught high schoolers but I have spent my second half with middle school kids.
When people ask me what grade I teach, I’ll reply, “Middle School.” Nine times out of ten, most cringe and say, “I don’t know how you do it.”
I can honestly answer, it’s never dull. You never know what these kids will do and say.
Many of the things middle schoolers say crack me up. One day, I gave them a handout I created to practice identifying fact from opinion; something middle school kids find difficult.
I threw in one I could not resist: Fact or opinion: Your teacher is intelligent. They didn’t know what to do with this statement and after much laughter, we continued on to the next sentence.
We get ivory from elephants. When I read the sentence, I saw perplexed looks sprinkled across the room.
One boy raised his hand and asked, “We get soap from elephants?”
I burst out laughing and some of the class joined me.
From the look on the boy’s face, he did not get what was so funny. I then could not resist saying, “That’s why elephants float;” another statement he did not get.
This is the humorous side of middle schoolers but their logic can be faulty. There have been many occasions when my students have said mean and hurtful things.
When I call them on it, I will often hear, “But, I’m just being honest.” They say this as if being brutally honest justifies being cruel.
I have often explained to them just because something is true does not mean they should say it. This lesson also crossed over into my social studies classroom.
When we study freedom and what it means to Americans, I often have to explain, just because we can do or say something, in the name of freedom, does not mean we always should.
What is Freedom?
The word, freedom has many definitions; it is multi-faceted. (Definitions adapted from dictionary.com.)
1. Freedom does not confine you to a specific place; you are free to move about from place to place.
If I enjoy this specific benefit of freedom, I am not a prisoner, who must, under punishment of the law, stay within designated and enforced boundaries.
2. Freedom also means you have the power of deciding what to do or say, without being restricted.
In America, we may say what we think of our leaders, neighbors and our friends. We do not live in fear if we make the choice to disagree with our governing bodies. This is not the case in many other countries.
3. Another facet of freedom is having no obligations toward or concerning someone or something.
In our country, we do not have to stay in a job we grow to hate; we have the freedom to change from one occupation to another, without even asking for someone’s approval.
4. Freedom means you may exercise privileges of a country because of your citizenship.
Being born an American citizen, we may vote for our leaders, we can bear arms and have a right to all the other things summed up in the Bill of Rights.
All of the above freedoms are ours. We are a blessed, privileged and fortunate people. Many, sharing the globe with us do not have these freedoms and it’s easy for us to forget this.
Not only does our heritage entitle us to specific rights, so does our spiritual heritage. When we are members of God’s kingdom, it entitles us to many things.
2 Corinthians 3:7–18 discusses the fact that in the Old Testament, Moses had to place a veil over his face to withstand seeing just the passing presence of God.
Moses had to be physically and symbolically separated from God’s presence. The verses describe the freedom we have because Jesus removed the need for this veil.
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:16–17 (NIV).
We are, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, free to come to God about anything. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV) confirms this.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
The freedom to come to God about anything is mind-boggling yet, with this freedom, comes responsibility.
The Responsibility of Freedom
Though Americans have the right to free speech, it does not mean it’s prudent to say whatever we think, no matter what my students claim.
We have a responsibility to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.
Recent U.S. history reveals a social swing of being sensitive to others’ thoughts, feelings and actions and we’ve labeled some of this behavior, Political Correctness.
There are many reasons being mindful of what we say or how we act around others is good. When society added political correctness, the results reaped much that is positive.
This is when we are using our freedom responsibly. Do we have the right to say and do most things? Yes, but again, we need to weigh in the question, should we?
The responsibility of freedom swings the opposite way. This is something that we can overlook. Sometimes, because we are free to speak, we need to do that very thing, even if it’s difficult.
Speaking up in the store when we witness the injustice of a parent screaming at the preteen boy or someone pushing their way into line before a senior citizen.
Freedom’s responsibility is now something we must weigh carefully because we realize there are consequences when using our freedom.
The Consequences of Freedom
There is never a time when our actions or inactions do not affect other people. I envision a pebble dropped into a still pond, representing a specific action I choose.
The rings traveling outward and will overlap others’ actions and the more extreme my actions, or bigger stones, are, the more the rings affect. We must consider others when exercising freedom.
The Bible warns of these consequences/results of freedom. Galatians 5:13 (NIV) says,
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
Considering how we enact freedom and how it affects others is a gift we can give and it is a demonstration of love.
If everyone considered their inherent rights and subsequent actions closely and act accordingly, that is when our society will thrive in the purest freedom it has ever experienced.