Our freedoms are never free
As we get ready for summer, we are all itching to celebrate the joys of summer: sunshine, water, summer picnics, barbecues, and more. Unfortunately, all of us are anticipating the same summer bliss and most likely showing up in crowds.
Lately, the news cycle in the United States is reeling with divisive stories. Are you making a political statement by wearing a mask? If you choose to go to the beach with friends, are you endangering others? How can you navigate summer fun without having someone else possibly yell or criticize you for your actions?
Kindness is necessary in any public setting, but in some places, we are seeing a breakdown of courtesy over people’s freedoms to do as they see appropriate for their individual lives. What might seem an overreaction to some (staying home and following social distancing stringently) is possibly the safest outcome when you are caring for an elderly loved one in your own home. What seems flippant to others (taking your children on a beach vacation) is the possibly the best scenario for a marriage dynamic mounting with depression and anxiety or even abuse behind closed doors.
We are given choices in a pandemic, even with government recommendations. Kindness only arrives when we understand our freedoms are never free. If you think it’s natural to be kind and courteous, then you need only leave children (and some adults!) in a room alone to sort out a conflict amongst themselves. See if the outcome leads to kindness and unity or hurt feelings and drama.
For those of us willing to extend kindness in a time of uncertainty, we are absorbing a cost. Maybe it’s holding our tongue, or refraining from a judgmental thought, or taking the time to ask a thoughtful question with someone you disagree with. Exercising our individual rights does not translate into yelling at another person, screenshooting a post or text to mock privately, or gossiping behind someone’s back when you don’t agree with his or her choice.
For many of us, our rights to practice our freedoms never came at a cost. Many of us have never served in a war nor seen a fellow soldier die in combat. The liberties we celebrate this Memorial Day, the right to self determination, only work if as a nation we are united behind the common cost required to gain it. Without emotionally grasping the great cost of liberty, we are unwilling to absorb the small costs.
With our upcoming move to France, I am fascinated by the deep emotional tie between the French in Normandie and the Americans who served there in World War II and common values between the French and Americans. From two French woman (watch here):
“In the cemeteries, there were so many deaths to save France, and all the countries occupied by Germany. Who would we be, the French, if you Americans hadn’t come?”
“That some American boys, and in some cases, kids, went to shore on our beaches to fight in a hell to liberate people they didn’t even know. When you realize it and you realize you are free and you can continue to maintain your language and your traditions, then you realize what they (Americans) have done and the sacrifice that many of them have made.”
“For (American soldier) survivors, we can welcome them, escort them through ceremonies, or visit them in the US when possible, and take care of them and cherish them. This is the only thing I can do – which is nothing in comparison for what they have done for us.”
There is an unspoken, deep courtesy between the French and Americans when they meet in Normandie. Some of them are people who remember the invasion or fought themselves. Some are children who have been taught by ceremony and memorial (watch here) the importance of this cost. Memory is a powerful force. Memory allows for a kind of mental time travel, a way for us to picture not just the past, but also a version of the future.
In the middle of a pandemic, Memorial Day is so timely. It can be more than just marking the beginning of summer and leisure. We have an opportunity to envision our future together as a nation, but also around the world. No country is unaffected by this pandemic. Unity is a beautiful thing, nearly impossible to achieve without all participants absorbing some type of cost. If we draw lines that separate us on small things, we will be unwilling to budge on bigger things.
Memory helps us picture the cost of the past, and remind us we can endure the costs today. I hope this Memorial Day and this start of your summer, you take stock of why you can enjoy the liberties you do have, and respectfully guard against division. With kindness & courtesy, there is an always an opportunity for curiosity and growth.
ARE YOU STILL MOVING TO PARIS?
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