Popular use of the phrase “let freedom ring” comes from its use in the song “America” (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee), written by Samuel Francis Smith in 1831. Dr. Martin Luther King referenced both the song and the phrase in his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. “Freedom” and “rights” are often used together and even interchangeably, and today, people are becoming more vocal and assertive in their pursuit of their rights.
Today is the official day to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy under the protection of the United States of America. Most people will spend this holiday doing things they enjoy with people they love and will spend very little time thinking about what freedom means or what it costs those who secured it for us. Tomorrow, we will go back to our routines and quickly forget even the cursory consideration we might have given to the nature of the freedom we enjoy.
Freedom means different things to different people. It can mean the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, which is the way many people think about freedom today. It can mean the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved, which is the way Dr. King was using it in his historic speech. It can mean the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government, which is the primary way the founders of the United States were thinking.
Freedom can and should mean all these things to all the people who live in the United States. However, freedom cannot exist without community. Alone, none of us can protect our freedom. It is only in community that we have an opportunity to establish and protect these freedoms we enjoy and sometimes now take for granted. Like the saying goes, “Freedom isn’t free.” Community requires investment and, at times, sacrifice.
For us to live together in community, we must each voluntarily limit our behavior (freedom) in order to create a culture where others can experience feeling safe and cared for. A simple example is the use of a car on our community roads. If everyone could do anything they want with their car, no one would be safe, and most people wouldn’t be able to drive at all. When we each voluntarily give up our right to do as we wish, then everyone can do as they need.
This type of community only works if people care about other people. Unfortunately, in many cases, we have lowered the standard to just caring about oneself. For example, most drivers don’t care about the other people on the road, as evidenced by their driving. They are limited only by the threat of legal retribution and loss of their own property. While this maintains a tenuous and weak peace, it breaks down quickly and for little or no reason.
If the only person I care about is myself (and maybe others just like me), then it will require rules (with stiff penalties) and threats of personal loss to constrain my behavior. Furthermore, if I believe someone else is in my way, I can easily convince myself that I am justified in using force to get my way. We can see the evidence of this all around us.
Freedom from a tyrannical government is a necessary first step to a community that is truly free, but it is only the first step. The more difficult and individually costly work is in creating a culture where we each genuinely care about others enough to limit our freedom so others can experience their best life too. Then we can truly say:
My country, ’tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let Freedom ring.
I encourage you to take a moment today as you enjoy and celebrate your freedom to remember what it cost to provide that freedom. Think about what it will cost each of us to preserve and improve it. Creating a culture of value for everyone is the only chance we have of continuing to live in freedom, and it is The Kimray Way.