A Monument to Responsibility

Viktor Frankl saw more of the world and knew more about the heart of man than most of us could bear. As a young man he was imprisoned in various Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Although he survived three terrible years of confinement, his father, mother, brother, and wife did not. He emerged from the experience broken and angry, and anxious to see a better world. You can imagine his excitement upon arriving in America. As the ship bringing him here sailed past the Statue of Liberty, he was thrilled beyond words to be in a country so committed to freedom. But after traveling across America, Frankl decided that America needed another statue. He suggested that we place this statue on the opposite coast in the San Francisco Bay, and that we name it the "Statue of Responsibility." These were wise words from a man who had learned the hard way that liberty without responsibility is dangerous. Frankl understood that the only way we can guarantee the preservation of our freedom is to use it responsibly. The rights we enjoy today depend upon our remembering and fulfilling our duties as citizens. That's why President John Adams said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." In our experiment in ordered liberty, citizens are given a great deal of freedom. But our system presupposes that people will do what is right and just -- that we will do our civic duty. It works the same way with the parents of teenagers. You want your teen to flourish when she experiences the freedom of college. So, every day you grant your child a little more liberty, hoping she'll use it wisely. If you push back her curfew by an hour, and she uses that hour judiciously and comes home on time, then she preserves her freedom. But abuses of the curfew result in more restrictive rules and less freedom. Compare this to the American right of free speech. Every citizen has the freedom to speak his mind, so long as his speech doesn't jeopardize the wellbeing of other citizens. But if someone yells "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater, his right to free speech is curtailed. In the case of liberty, it's not just a case of "use it or lose it," it's a case of "use it responsibly or lose it." When we can't control ourselves, the government steps in and imposes control, and that's a much less desirable consequence. This tension between liberty and order is especially noticeable in today's cyberspace. There's a lot of freedom on the Internet -- practically anyone with a computer and a modem can start a website, and that website can discuss and display almost anything. That's all fine until people abuse it. Those who can't control themselves -- pornographers, predators, and the like -- force government to step in and limit everyone's liberty in cyberspace. And this is a lesson that applies across the board. Your youngsters need to understand that responsibility is an essential prerequisite to freedom. A "Statue of Responsibility" may not be as appealing as the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. But as Viktor Frankl recognized, we won't enjoy what the Statue of Liberty stands for unless we act responsibly.   For further reading: Adams, John. Letter to the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798. In The Works of John Adams Vol. 9, edited by Charles F. Adams. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854.


Chuck Colson



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