To the Editor: ‘Let’s talk about freedom’

I find it interesting the response we are having to vaccines and masks. Often I hear arguments against these that are couched in terms of a personal freedom of choice — that the authorities have no right to curb our “freedoms.”  So, let’s talk about freedom.  Freedom is not about what one can or cannot do, but rather about what one ought to do.  We can kill someone, but that does not mean it should be allowed.

We can drive on the opposite side of the road, but allowing that would not benefit society. This is in part because our rights end at the point they would impinge upon someone else’s.  Even our Constitution is drafted along this line of thought.  The document begins with the word “We”.  It is a set of rules “to promote the general welfare” among other common ideals.  It is written towards the betterment of society by guaranteeing individual freedoms.

It delineates individual rights that are properly directed to the good of society.  But there are no ‘free lunches,’ it also demands we accept responsibility when we exercise these freedoms.  In this way we are accountable to exercise our rights without trampling on those of our neighbors.

The history of mankind universally portrays us as communal beings.  As such, we are called to serve the community.  All our individual actions should reinforce this ideal.  Freedom demands rules towards this end.

These rules should guide our behavior to make clear what is needed to preserve community.  It seems some think freedom means no rules — “don’t tell me how to act.”  Well, in fact, without rules there is no freedom.  Without rules there is only chaos. Take for instance the game of chess.  It is one of the freest games, so free that it takes supercomputers to develop winning strategies.

The board itself sets boundaries, but without rules that govern each piece there is no game.  If each piece moves however it chooses, then there is only chaos.  There are many other clear examples of how our individual behaviors must be guided by rules for the good of society.  So, it is not what we can do but what we ought to do that gives us freedom. In our society, these two forces are balanced.  What we ought to do is defined by our rules for the benefit of society.  The adage ‘think locally but act globally’, the ‘golden rule’, our Constitution are all manifestations of this notion of freedom.

Yes, I wear a mask and I am vaccinated, not just for COVID but for diseases that can generally harm society.  Yes, my actions are selfish, because they protect me; but, they are also for the benefit of our community…it protects my wife, my family, and you.  I do this to respect your freedom, and mine.  I do it as a small attempt at humility, my attempt to put your safety before mine.

It is my way to act individually in a manner that benefits you and me … in short, it is what I ought to do!

Scott O’Neil

Story First Published: 2021-10-15