We all claim to love freedom. When carried on the lips of the patriotic, the democratic and the lovers of liberty, freedom is the greatest thing on the planet. It is the alpha and the omega of the human existence and pinnacle of human achievement. To many, it's the only thing worth fighting and dying for and to countless others living without it, it's the only thing worth hoping for.
But how quickly we forget the true definition of freedom. We so easily write off the definition of freedom, as to be free or to live in a free country and to being able to do whatever we want whenever we want to. While on the surface that may seem to capture the very essence of freedom, it's a very shallow, self-centered and delusional definition that does more to cripple the notion of freedom than it does to explain or materialize the notion.
Freedom cannot be measured simply by one person's ability to do as they please without fear of reprisal, rather it must be measured by everyone's ability to do as such. Freedom means more than you obtaining permission to do what you will, it means obtaining permission for others to do as they please and it means supporting others rights to do what they will with their minds, their bodies and their words, even if it makes you uncomfortable, so long as it truly harms no other.
Because if all a man wants to do is fish and sleep, he'll find himself living "free" in almost any country of the world. Even though others around him may be getting beaten for reading certain books or holding certain ideals, he himself is as free as any of us would care to be. But that does nothing to justify what is going on around him and even though he might not realize it nor care to think about it, the world he lives in is just as controlled and manipulated as human cruelty will allow. After all, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and even Pol Pot called their countries "free" and from their perspectives they were right, it was just the rest of the populace that had a problem.
That's why, if we're going to live in a free country, we have to stand up for our those who disagree with us once in a while and accept those with different lifestyles and attitudes from us. Despite what others say, freedom is not about one side, even the majority, telling the other what they can and cannot do, but it is about people of all varieties being big enough and confident enough to look at those that they disagree with and allow them to be as they are and do what they will even though they might have the power to crush it.
Because that's the true responsibility we have to maintain freedom, not to be ready to fight and die for it (though it is definitely called for at times), but to be ready to allow it to flourish, even when it isn't easy. Because if we allow ourselves to shut down one freedom on the basis of mere discomfort, we soon find ourselves crushing ten and then a hundred. Over time we find ourselves persecuting one group, then another and then another and after we've whittled away at the rights we hold dear, we find ourselves wondering where our freedom went.
Much like a sculptor who never stopped chiseling at a block of granite, we find ourselves standing over not a beautiful piece of art but a pile of useless gravel that means nothing save to be a sore reminder of what once was and never will be again.
If we as a society are to avoid this fate, we need to realize now that the greatest struggle for freedom takes place inside each and every one of us and, with that in mind, change our definition and open our minds to the world around us. Because in a society where one man, who has done no injustice, isn't free, no one is truly free. And if that happens, the rest of the populace is just waiting until the day the rights they enjoy become mere memories and the freedoms they once defended are nothing but a lesson in a history book.