We The (Quarky) People

We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.

—President Barack Obama, 2012

Freedom is foundational to the concept of America. However, we tend to forget that the basis for our freedom is a responsibility to bind ourselves to one another in service. Most people can recall the first line of the Declaration of Independence: “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.…” They are less likely to remember the end: “…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

I watched the season finale of Young Sheldon where Sheldon has invited his family and entire school to come listen via short wave radio to the announcement of the 1990 Nobel Prize for Physics. No one comes, and he is left sitting alone listening as the prize is awarded to Friedman, Kendall, and Taylor “for their discovery of quarks.” Sheldon is brought to tears, both because he wanted Cowan and Reines (who had discovered neutrinos) to win, and because he is alone.

Neutrinos are nearly massless particles that do not interact with each other or with other things. They pass right through us and the rest of the known universe. Quarks, on the other hand, are one of the forms of matter that make up an atom. Young Sheldon realizes that one of the remarkable characteristics of quarks is that they are bonded together. Neutrinos are alone.

In the rush to grab freedom and independence for ourselves, we run the risk of giving up that which makes freedom possible and desirable: service and interdependence. Freedom is not the ability to be rid of all the bonds of community (like a neutrino), it is the ability to choose to be bound to those we love and care about (like a quark). Neutrinos are completely free, but that freedom is meaningless. Quarks are bound to each other and therefore free to create all the matter in the universe.

Our forefathers valued and demonstrated a deep and abiding commitment to the greater and communal good. They knew that compromise and grace were necessary components of a successful community, whether that was a family, a city, a state, or a nation. Their decision to separate from the King of England was not lightly or rashly made. In fact, they petitioned for years to get their concerns addressed and were met not with any sort of temperance, but with additional harms. They were driven to the final solution, mostly unwillingly, and with great concern.

Today there is a lot being said about freedom and rights, but not so much about responsibility and serving one another. While no person should be harmed by another, our focus on rights and getting what is ours can easily lead to fractioning the community where those rights get their legitimacy and strength. Without community we would be free like a neutrino, moving through space and time but making no impact and having no connection. Within community we are bound in some ways and therefore not absolutely free, but we have much greater things available to us because of those bonds.

Our mission at Kimray is to make a difference in the lives of those we serve. When each of us joined this community, we agreed to be bound to one another in some ways. We agreed to give up some of our individual freedoms in order to gain what only exists in community. We traded a free but lonely existence for the bonds of a caring and supportive community. This community exists only as long as we are willing to pledge ourselves to it. The same is true for our nation.

I hope that as you remember and celebrate our nation’s independence this year, that you will also acknowledge the interdependence and responsibility that is necessary for us to have true freedom.