Yesterday, in a classroom of about 400 people, my professor asked: “Are you free?”
America is the Land of Freedom. People come to the U.S. assuming that their choices will be respected, exercising their human right to the unconfined pursuit of happiness. I answered “Yes,” anticipating being among the majority. To my amazement, 60 percent of my class answered “No.” Now that’s worth writing about…
The very first written record of freedom is “Amagi,” an ancient Sumerian cuneiform originally meaning “free from debt slavery.”The term “Amagi” can also be literally translated to “return to mother,” indicating one’s return to one’s origin. This notion represents the beginning expressions of freedom — not freedom of choice, freedom of speech, or anything else. It was more a sense of belonging to a nation state where your trust resides. It is a nation your heart beats for and your body fights for. It is a nation that might not be perfect yet, but it is YOUR nation, home to your hope of making a living and building a generation under an agreeable ideal.
I, by no means, am implying that the 10 freedoms ensured in the Bills of Right are not important. Rather, I am offering an unconventional way to think about freedom, a way in which we can, for once, put our personal egos aside and reflect on what’s at stake: the future of our nation and our freedom.
As an international student, I take my interest in understanding the American culture seriously. I know that there are many constraints on American individuals. Yet, by looking beyond the frustration and disappointment that many Americans feel toward the American government, I can’t help, but feel defensive.
Why aren’t you doing something about it?
Many people complain that they do not have enough freedom; many of them never actually exercised their freedom in the first place. If you are frustrated with your government, then take the time to understand your local politicians before voting for them (but wait, did you even vote?). Complaining might seem like a release, but it doesn’t solve problems. Freedom is earned. It is ironic how people want freedom yet don’t fight for it.
In addition, many people complain about infringements on their right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and so on. Do these same people pause to think how exercising their freedom might restrain or even hurt the freedom of others? Freedom of speech and expression give us the right to freely express ourselves, but not in the fashion of abusing or harassing other people.
One day I was walking on campus and saw a group of female students in tears because of the exhibit of anti-abortion materials from local religious groups on campus. As the school president, I felt impotent because I couldn’t do anything to change it. The religious groups were expressing their “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech.”
It is important to understand the conflict of interest among human rights and exercise your freedom in the manner that is respectful of those differences. After all, freedom wasn’t meant to favor any one individual above another; it is a social contract of respect.
This brings us back to “Amagi” – “return to mother.” I like this raw expression of freedom because even though it sounds simple, it is an impacted and meaningful notion. It reminds us that freedom is less about selfishness, and more about harmony. It is about the value of living together under one roof, respecting everyone’s freedom and constantly fighting for its betterment.
I would like to end this article by quoting one of IVN’s active contributors, Bob Conner:
“Being an American is much like being a member of a massive family — we’re sometimes completely dysfunctional, we frequently battle in sibling rivalry, but we always belong to the family despite all our differences, and when it’s necessary, we understand the value of cohesiveness.”