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Opinion: What kind of Americans do we want to be?

An American flag flies at Utah Veterans Cemetery and Memorial Park in Bluffdale on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, 2020. Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

This is an editorial piece. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with the KSL newsroom.

Let me say first that I am proud, so proud to have been born in America. I have realized since I was old enough to appreciate such things, how truly blessed my life has been by the simple fact of where my parents lived when I was born. The freedoms I’ve enjoyed, the good home, the good education, the opportunities, all of it. I could not be anything but grateful.

But that doesn’t make me blind to a quality in the American spirit that is not serving us at present. A quality that, if we looked at it straight and with humility, we might be able to make a course correction and live an even better life. Our belief in freedom, the beautiful core concept of our nation’s founding, has morphed from a belief in both the right and responsibility of freedom to the right and expectation of freedom.

In other words, it’s purely a selfish freedom we want now. My freedom. Mine. I want to not wear a mask because I’m sick of it, because I don’t believe in it, because I don’t need it. It’s my right. I don’t care about you. I don’t want my children to wear masks. It’s my right. I don’t care about you. I want to own as many guns as possible of every variety. It’s my right. I don’t care about you. It goes on and on and on. 

What happened to the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the one? Shouldn’t that be considered? Perhaps not win every time, but be considered? Because rights do not live in a vacuum. They live in a world where responsibilities are attached. There are consequences to your exercising your “rights.” Other people get hurt. Other people die as a direct result of your exercising your rights.

Other free, democratic countries, other cultures, do not struggle with this issue. They gladly and without struggle put on their masks to protect their fellow citizens and do not feel the least bit less free. And if you’ll forgive the comparison, they do not feel the need to own twenty guns in order to feel free, either. Gun ownership does not make them free. We Americans are unique in our attachment to guns. We seem to need them in order to feel free, and look at the awful price we pay. We also need to stand up and claim our “right” to not wear a mask, and look at the more than half a million dead and climbing. 

Isn’t it possible that we could embrace our strength, our individuality as free people, and learn to carry responsibilities with rights more sensibly? I must believe we don’t need to beat our chests with our freedom. We’re that free. We’re so free, in fact, that we can reach a hand down to lift up those who are less free. We are free enough to be generous. Free enough to be kind, but we’re not acting that way of late. We’re acting like 5th graders. “Make me!” 

Often the law can’t make us do the right thing. Sometimes it can, but infrequently. Only we can do that for ourselves. We must decide what kind of people we want to be. Free and good or just free. 

 

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