Whether it be the horrific loss of life in the most recent tragedies in El Paso Texas and Dayton Ohio, or the restrictions on freedom of speech on a college campus, the liberties of our citizens are under assault. A loss of life is the ultimate theft of liberty and recent actions point to a despicable trend to steal our liberties as well as our lives.
Our Declaration of Independence states that we have certain unalienable rights. Those rights are not just words. They mean something especially to those who served in the military supporting and defending our Constitution and our liberties.
The concept of liberty recognizes our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty includes those inalienable rights given to all created. Freedom implies the ability to act such as our freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and to bear arms. The minute one’s freedoms trample on the liberty of another, then conflict ensues and must be resolved.
The differences between freedom and liberty are significant. Within the concept of liberty comes a measure of personal accountability and responsibility. The concept of freedom is within the purview of government with the consent of the governed in our Constitution. Nowhere, however, does one’s misbehaviors have the right to take away another’s freedoms and liberties.
Our nation is at a crossroads. Whenever the lines between freedom and liberty become blurred, government almost always oversteps its bounds.
We all have the freedom of speech for example. When government decides that it can restrict our speech because it does not like what it hears your liberties have been limited. Where liberty is concerned, we have the personal responsibility to recognize the consequences of our actions and we must be willing to be held accountable for those actions.
The distinction between freedom and liberty is the basis of government and political discourse and will be forever debated. But what cannot be understated is the importance of personal accountability and responsibility. The discourse between freedom and liberty becomes clearer when interpreted in the light of personal accountability and responsibility.
One of the first leadership principles that all Marines and servicemembers learn is to take responsibility for your actions. That leadership principle is the basic premise for virtually every other character trait and leadership principle that the military teaches.
In a society which fails to exercise control within a recognized societal framework, the absence of personal responsibility will wreak havoc on those citizens and their attempt to improve their lot in life.
Personal responsibility is a critical aspect of accountability and, most importantly, it is also a right. The right to accept personal responsibility is essential to any individual exercising free will and to the society at large for its own long-term survival and growth.
The Founding Fathers, in the Declaration of Independence, were quite clear in their exhortation when they said:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–…’
The Founding Fathers took total responsibility for their actions. They achieved liberty because of divine intervention and their willingness to pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Personal responsibility is a sacred right, a sacred honor and an integral part of liberty.
The past 50 years have seen countless examples in which personal responsibility was shunned with disastrous effect.
For some reason, our problems seem to be someone else’s fault and the governed seek to restrict the liberties of others. Liberty has been denied by placing restrictions on our freedoms because of the actions of another.
When a society becomes convinced that all their woes are the result of someone else’s actions, and that government intervention solves problems, the concept of personal responsibility and the liberty that personal responsibility brings are lost.
Personal responsibility does bring freedom. It is liberating to realize that you can influence your own life without having your government intervene on your behalf.
Taking personal responsibility is about leadership and self-discipline. Personal responsibility is so crucial to the rule of law in any economy. As soon as the concept of personal responsibility deteriorates, the normal functioning of an economy and a society are impeded.
Most importantly, you can begin the process of taking responsibility by looking inwardly for solutions to your problems and not seek governmental intervention as the quick fix.
Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) represents the 101st District in the PA House of Representatives. He is a retired Marine Reserve Colonel and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].