True freedom is to share
All the chains our brothers wear
And, with heart and hand, to be
Earnest to make others free!
(James Russell Lowell)
LIKE MANY OF THE OTHER QUALITIES WE’VE DISCUSSED, FREEDOM IS NOT ONLY A BLESSING TO BE APPRECIATED — IT’S A GIFT TO BE GIVEN. To whatever extent we ourselves are free, we should pause frequently to give thanks for that. But it’s almost always true that our freedoms were purchased by the sacrifices of others, and so proper gratitude for freedom has to include deeds as well as words. As a free people, our deeds must be those that lift the burdens of those less free. True freedom, as Lowell wrote, is to share “all the chains our brothers wear.” It is to be “earnest to make others free!”
There are many kinds of bondage, of course, and some of them are self-inflicted. Some forms of enslavement are personal, rather than political or social. Some are on the other side of the world, rather than near at hand. But however and wherever human beings languish for lack of freedom, our hearts must be touched by the injustice of their condition. If we ever fail to act with compassion and courage on behalf of the downtrodden and the oppressed, we will have departed from the morality that has made our civilization great.
Abraham Lincoln, whose greatness we remember today, was exemplary in his concern for freedom. Few figures in our history stand out as having sacrificed more for the cause of freedom than Lincoln.
But Lincoln would very likely be disturbed by much that goes on today in the name of freedom. He would be appalled by our softness, our self-indulgence, and our evasion of personal responsibility. He would be shocked by the socially destructive uses to which some put their freedom. He would be saddened to see how selfishly we define freedom and how shortsighted we are in our promotion of it.
To honor freedom — and to celebrate the life of a man like Lincoln — we must do more than join organizations and attend rallies. We must sweat for it, and having defended it for ourselves and others, we must use it as a people who know right from wrong.
“We have confused the free with the free and easy” (Adlai Stevenson).