This recent Fourth of July made us reflect more deeply about what independence means. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, independence is freedom from outside control or support. Similarly, personal independence is the notion that people can express, think, and make decisions based on their personal preferences developed based on their culture and preferences. Independence and freedom, which allow our primary national characteristic of individualism to flourish, are the backbone of this country. In his well-known book of essays titled Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, a prominent 19th century French sociologist and political theorist, commented on the benefits and potential dangers of individualism. He believed that individualism must be controlled because “it has a tendency to fall to selfishness …that leads man to connect everything to himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world.” Despite this danger, de Tocqueville also observed that this same individualism is a key ingredient to progress. When people embrace their unique capabilities and put them to use solving social, political, and business challenges, nations benefit. He recognized that it was this balance between freedom and responsibility that made America special. Living in the United States today we continue to have personal independence…with restrictions. Your rights end where someone else’s begin; there often are consequences when your words and actions harm, disrespect, or demean other people. This raises the question: is freedom with boundaries truly freedom?
Freedom in a human society has limits, and that’s good. Having personal freedom doesn’t mean that the moral compass can be thrown out the window. Tolerance and respect are as important as independent freedom. If everyone had to think, act, and do things the same or—even worse—was required by law to conform, there would be no true freedom. And so, to allow everyone to live as freely as possible, there must be limits and guidelines. It’s a bit paradoxical, but that’s reality.
An example of balance between independence and boundaries can be seen in the parent-child relationship. As a young child, family and friends often form opinion, but personal independence is also left to develop. It’s this creativity that allows children to develop their own opinions and beliefs to develop their unique selves. It is easy for children to cling to the beliefs of others- especially people they trust, and this is a good thing as children learn and grow. Later, when children are able to go through their own personal experiences, they can then form their own beliefs and viewpoints. Independence seems to us to be a maturation process, not unlike how a child matures.
In reflecting on history, America appears to have gone through a maturation process, too. It began with the original colonies, fighting for and creating the Declaration of Independence, and continued with the abolishment of slavery, voting rights for women, and, most recently, same-sex marriages. These events come down to the same issue—independence and the line between protecting opinions and protecting rights. With time comes change, which is imperative to protecting rights no matter what race, religion, gender, or sexual preference. However, relatively few people like change. But why is this? Is this because they’re comfortable where they are? Is it because the problems arising don’t appear to have anything to do with them? These questions can’t be answered simply. Resistance comes from different places, but fortunately in the United States, everyone has the personal freedom to believe what they want and the right to talk about it. Of course, independence has two sides. With freedom comes responsibility. It can be a difficult balance and one that sometimes does not come easily. Sure, everyone has missteps occasionally, but it’s a great freedom to have the right to be ourselves and it is worth the effort we each should make so our individualism is never allowed to fall into the destructive selfishness de Tocqueville feared.
So, think about how far we’ve come with freedom and imagine what will be accomplished in the years to come if we all are constructive participants in our world as parents, community and family members, and as professionals.
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Hello! We are Laughing Leopard Press, an independent book publisher from Akron, Ohio. At Laughing Leopard Press, we’re interested in publishing works that contribute to our understanding of this wonderful world. Through this blog, we hope to add to that understanding with commentary on life, literature, and a few things in between. We hope you enjoy the blog and take some time to talk with us in the comments or on our social media sites. Happy reading!
This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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