American Concert Pianist, Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger

On the meaning of Freedom, Forgiveness, Responsibility and Respect

As the Springtime is upon us, a new sense of freedom and lightness and gaiety pervades. Hope, renewed energy, sunlight, and more! But what is the real meaning of Freedom? Is freedom simply the opposite of slavery in the most literal sense of the words? Or is there something more to freedom than that? I think true freedom means different things to different people. To me, freedom means being able to be who you are, being able to do what you were meant to do, being able to be  truthful to oneself and to others without fear of retribution, being able to lead a life of meaning and purpose- to be a good person-  without having to be "perfect". Freedom comes in "Constitutional" forms, as well. Such as the right to have freedom of speech. But where do the lines between freedom of speech and civility, courtesy, etiquette, and lawfulness lie?
I think we are all enslaved- none of us has true to freedom to express what we want, because our words can hurt others and hurt ourselves in the process. Intentional or not, a misspoken word can have far-reaching effects. A wise Rabbi once told me that a sharp word could figuratively shatter a glass whose shards could never be put back together again, and for that reason we must be extremely careful about what we say. Even if we wanted to espouse this philosophy- which would generally provide for a world free of strife and war, free of separations and divorce and estrangement- we all succumb under pressures and stress to say things or do things we do not mean. 
That is where the freedom and forgiveness principles go hand in hand. With freedom comes honesty. Honesty and truthfulness can hurt sometimes, because we are all different and have different perspectives. Therefore, the ability to say one is sorry and the ability to forgive are essential for the principle of freedom to exist. Being able to atone for one's sins- both great and small, is a basic element of the Judeo-Christian religions, for example.
I choose to be honest, to be free. I choose to be kind, but I am not perfect. I choose to be pleasant, but sometimes I might offend, most often unintentionally. This is my freedom to be who I am, state what I believe or how I feel, and be free to apologize when I can honestly admit and accept that I am wrong. Sometimes it is possible for there to be more than one way to do a right thing or do something the right way. And that is where understanding and compassion exist. But, in the words of a very smart man I know and respect, "there is no right way to do a wrong thing".
If all religions could accept the sanctity of humankind, we would be able to live peacefully amongst all people of different beliefs and different backgrounds, with respect, and freedom.
Therefore, Freedom is a responsibility. To insure freedom, we must accept responsibility for ourselves and for others. With ultimate freedom, we still must have laws to guide behaviors and acceptable modes of communication. Hateful speech, discrimination and persecution are abhorrent, but if we have laws that permit it, it will continue. If religious fanaticism is allowed to govern our country's laws, then where are we headed?? Back to the 1800's or earlier, for sure. Women, minorities, and LGBT persons will lose their rights, and continue to be enslaved, dominated, disrespected and subjugated. Can we, as a society, afford to go backwards?
In our American society and around the world, we must decide how much liberty or 'freedom of speech" we can allow, while still protecting the physical safety and the human rights of all people. And when a wrong word or deed is done, usually "laws" allows for some consideration of the culpable party's remorse when dealing with any forms of punishment . In our person-to-person interactions, we need to be able to do the same. We need to be able to accept a person's apology, or offer one, to be forgiving, and to be forgiven. We need to offer respect for others, but be able to expect it in return. We need to glorify the good and eradicate evil, little by little, each and every day. If, for example, a religion espouses hatred and the desire to destroy another country or people, how can that be considered an acceptable form of religion in our country and in our society? How can we respect others who do not have respect for us?
Where is the line between freedom and responsibility? What can we forgive and who can we respect? These are questions we must ask ourselves and our country in order to follow a path that will lead to peace, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness for all peoples.
Let's all think about the meaning of Freedom on this weekend of Passover and Easter.
What does Freedom mean to you? 

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