What is Freedom?


America. The 4th of July. Hot dogs. Apple pie. Rugged individualism and hardy cowboys.


That’s why our forefathers came to America, isn’t it? Freedom to live life the way they chose? To be free from tyranny? To live the American Dream? To be free?

As I traveled around our country this past month, I talked with a lot of Americans from all walks of life. Let’s just say, it was an education.

What struck me most about my conversations with people was the prevalent idea that we stand alone. Many people seemed to think we are an island unto ourselves – both as a country and as individuals.

“We need to take care of America!” they cry. “Let the rest of the world take care of themselves!”

“I am not my brother’s keeper! I live my life the way I want and you live your life the way you want! Nobody should mandate that I do anything I don’t want to do.”

But I can’t help but think they are missing the point. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together. The United States of America is part of a greater world. We are one nation among many. Our actions have grave impact on the rest of the world.

As individuals, our actions/inactions have an impact as well. You want to live your life one way, but your very choice impacts the way I live my life. We are an interconnected world, with many of the connections so invisible we can’t see them with the naked eye. That doesn’t make them any less real.

1776Bear with me for a minute as we travel back in time to the year 1776. Our country had just gained freedom. We were no longer under the rule of Britain, but were free to do as we pleased. No rules. No regulations. No government. Just a whole lot of free men running around… well, freely.

Fast forward twelve years and people realized that, perhaps, they weren’t so free. This running around freely with no agreed-upon rules wasn’t working. Things weren’t quite so dreamy with no structure, no obligations, no rules. And so, our country elected our first president, George Washington. Government was formed.

I am fairly certain there were some Americans who didn’t agree with George. They didn’t like his views on taxation or commerce or national security. There were those who felt he was taking our country in the wrong direction.

george washingtonAnd yet I’m also fairly certain that they recognized that George Washington had been fairly elected by the people, for the people, and of the people. He had been elected for the express purpose of designing rules and regulations that all Americans would abide by. He wasn’t perfect and his ideals were his own – he was human, after all. He saw the world through glasses tinted by his experience and he acted accordingly.

I would be willing to bet that George compromised and the others compromised and, while what came out of that process wasn’t perfect for both sides, it was something they could live with. They understood that no two people will ever see eye-to-eye on everything and we need to compromise. That’s something we should all have learned in kindergarten.

Unfortunately, my conversations with many Americans of late have indicated that there is a sizable percentage of people in my county who don’t understand the whole “give a little, take a little” way of life. They don’t seem to understand that things work better when we’re all on the same page. A rising tide lifts all ships. If I do better, then you do better. What was it the 3 Musketeers said? All for one, one for all?

I’m seeing more and more people with the attitude that they stand alone, yet we’re all in this together, whether we like it or not.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If we truly believed we should all be completely free to live life the way we choose, then we shouldn’t have any police or jails or government of any kind. Every man for himself. Live the way you want to, cross your fingers and hope for the best. Our founding fathers knew that didn’t work. They knew that didn’t lead to true freedom. They knew there was strength in numbers and in working together. Why have we, as Americans, lost that knowledge?

“I shouldn’t have to pay for your broken bones!” I’m hearing from people opposed to President Obama’s new healthcare plan. “I work hard for my money and I shouldn’t have to give up one red dime so your child can get his broken arm set.”

I have to wonder what George Washington would have thought about that.

We want our taxes a la carte. We want to pick and choose which taxes we’ll pay.

Taxes a la carte

No matter what the president/congress/supreme court rule, SOMEBODY’S right to do SOMETHING will be curtailed. Right? We give a little, we take a little. In the end, it all works out. Maybe some get a little more and others get a little less, but it works out just fine. We’re free when we work together.

The very fact that we live in a society means we have certain obligations within that society. If I choose not to accept and abide by them, then I can choose to move to a remote island somewhere and cut myself off from society and truly live the “every man for himself” idiom. I choose not to do that, therefore I accept that I will have to compromise in a way that makes society as a whole function the best it can.

“That’s all fine and dandy,” some would say. “As long as the rules are rules that I agree with. That are correct.” And my response is, “Correct according to whom? To you? To me?”

Whether we like it or not, if there are to be certain rules and regulations in order to make society function, they MUST be decided upon by somebody. When individual people protest and argue that they are “losing their rights” I don’t get it. I mean – WE (the American people) elected our governmental officials specifically so they can make those laws and set the standards by which we will all live. Then, when they do that, we get upset because we don’t like the decisions they made. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

I am baffled by the outrage over Obama’s healthcare law. I realize it’s not perfect. Heck – I think Obama realizes it’s not perfect! But it’s a step. It’s a teeny-tiny step toward taking care of ALL Americans, not only those lucky enough to be wealthy. There is still a lot of work to be done. There are thousands, if not millions, of steps left before we get there but you know what they say: The longest journey starts with a single step.

If we, as Americans, are going to be truly free – free to pursue our passions and follow our dreams – then we’ll need to know we can get an appendectomy when we’re doubled over in pain. We need to know that a simple medical procedure won’t break the bank and put us in the poorhouse for the rest of our lives. We need to be able to focus on where we want to go and what we want to do, not on who’s going to pay the hospital bill when we wake up one morning and find our kidneys have shut down.

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

working together as societyYes, we have personal responsibility. We have an obligation to ourselves and to society to take care of ourselves. I’m a firm believer in whole grains, organic veggies, homeopathy and essential oils. But all the granola in the world ain’t gonna help when little Johnnie slips on the monkey bars and ends up with a bone sticking out where it shouldn’t.

We have an obligation to be part of society and take care of others. It’s not just some loosy goosy thing we can do if we want. As human beings living within a society, we need to step up to the plate and do our part to take care of all. By supporting others and being a member of our community, we lift us all up. We make us all free.

No man is an island unto himself. We’re in this together. Let’s rise together and take care of one another. Only then can we be truly free.


A bunch of other blogger friends are also writing about freedom today – go check them out!

Let Freedom Ring
Are we free?
The Freedom to Choose
Freedom and straying off the beaten path
Living a Free and Meaningful Life
Freedom to Roam
Do you know what Freedom is?
Free Falling

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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17 Responses to What is Freedom?

  1. Mary July 4, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Sharing and freedom are not the same! Just because I disagree with the governments control over me doesn’t mean I don’t want to help some dying child. It has nothing to do with that. It is about losing more freedoms, deep freedoms!

    If I am anti government control it doesn’t mean I think its every man for himself!

    • Nancy July 4, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      @Mary, What has come across for me by talking with many Americans over the past month or so is that way too many do feel it’s every man for himself and that scares me. I realize I look at things differently that most Americans since I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life in other countries, but I see Americans as being very selfish and self-centered. I see a lot of exceptions to that as well, but I would say it’s more the rule than the exception. It’s scary.

      • Jen July 5, 2012 at 11:42 am #


        Freedom never happens when the government *tries* to force people to help each other or share. Never. Never not once has it every worked out the way it was supposed to. There are always unintended consequences. The things the government has done in the past to force sharing (which I consider socialism and I do not agree with) has actually caused more Americans to dig their heels in to share less. History has shown that the less government does, the more generous Americans feel and act. And lets not forget how incredibly inefficent government is when it does anything. Every $1 deducted from my check as FICA somehow only translates to pennies by the time it gets to an actual person.

        • Nancy July 5, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

          @Jen, It’s a tough issue, that’s for sure. There are no easy answers. I just think that freedom can never happen unless we work together and, sadly, I’m hearing too many Americans saying they are not willing to work together.

  2. Lindsay Hartfiel July 4, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Completely agree with your post! I have asked my parents in the past if politics was so divided as it is today and they’ve told me it wasn’t. In the past, they have voted on both sides of party lines. Today, people see only black and white. If they disagree with the president on one issue, they disagree on everything. As far as I’m concerned, health care shouldn’t even be a debate. We’re the land of the free and opportunity, but only to those who can afford it. People will complain and stand against something until they are actually affected by it. You don’t want health insurance? Ok…but when you come down with an illness, don’t expect help from anyone else.

    We all need to compromise a little. The U.S. and its citizens need a little lesson from the founders!

    • Nancy July 4, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      @Lindsay Hartfiel, It really is black and white these days. I left the USA to live abroad back in 1984 so missed the build-up to this. Now that I’m back, I feel like it’s just slapping me on the face – it’s so obvious. I think that maybe, if I had lived here through those years, I would see things differently, but maybe not. I’m not sure how much influence my years in countries where people know they need to rely on and work with others has impacted me.

  3. Kirsty July 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm #

    Really good post, lots to think about there.

    The health thing is such a hard thing for me to fathom, being in the UK where we have the NHS. I can’t ever imagine having to make choices about my families health that come down to money.

    • Nancy July 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

      @Kirsty, And here in the USA, there are LOTS of people who will point to the UK and say, “See how horrible socialized medicine is?” Obviously, they know nothing of which they speak.

      When John was in the ER last fall with appedicitis, he was laying on the gurney in absolute agony and we actually discussed the possibility of getting him on a plane to Mexico. In the end, there was no way as he hurt way too badly to travel, but the very fact that we were seriously discussing it is telling.

  4. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 4, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    As someone who isn’t from the US, I wonder how many of your fellow Americans realise what a huge impact they have on the rest of us globally?

    America is, without a doubt, the biggest global influence – politically, socially, culturally. Look at how far and wide American ideas, media and companies spread. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not (I’m looking at you, McDonalds!).

    A lot of people aspire to be American because it’s a freer country than many of the others around the world. Does the average American realise this?

    (As a New Zealander, I find it very hard to even fathom the concept of paying for healthcare. Very strange. It’s one of the most “foreign” things about the US to me.)

    • Nancy July 4, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

      @Bethaney – Flashpacker Family, Even though I am American, our version of health care is foreign to me too. I’ve lived overseas for so long I’ve learned to view health care as a right rather than a privilege for the wealthy. The way I see it, if poor countries like Nicaragua and Bolivia can provide health care for all, why can’t the US? It is true that their health care may not be up to the standard we would expect, but at least they try. Here in the US, we don’t even try.

  5. Debra Speakes July 4, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    Nancy, there’s a very important point that your post fails to take into account: our government is CORRUPT. It’s one thing to say, “We elected them; we should trust their judgment” but the reality is that our entire Congress (with some FEW exceptions) is bought and paid for by special interest groups. They are NOT making decisions based on the good of America, but based on the good for their little corner of the world. Those career politicians have lost all touch with the way 99% of us live. They no longer “represent” us — they represent themselves.

    The decisions recently handed down by the Supreme Court indicate that some of them are also CORRUPT — Citizens United was the worst decision they’ve ever made and who did it benefit? Big business and the politicians they are now free to buy and sell. Obamacare IS absolutely unconstitutional AS PASSED — yet they let it stand. Arizona wanted to enforce immigration laws — SHOT DOWN by the Supreme Court. Doesn’t do a damn thing to leave stand that cops can now ASK if you are legal or not, if they are not allowed to do anything about it if you’re not.

    So we have an out of control Congress, an out of control Supreme Court who feels free to twist the Constitution into a pretzel to avoid going against the POWER in this country (big businesses and the congressmen who serve them), and a President who, upon failing to get the legislation he wants just makes an Executive Order to get what he wants — oh, carefully timed just months before he is up for re-election.

    We HAVE TO oppose our elected representatives. We HAVE TO criticize these travesties they call laws. It is our job as citizens to control our so-called “leaders.” This is why this country was formed — to escape the tyranny of an elitist ruler so that we could govern ourselves. Well, we the people have lost our rights in favor of protecting the rich and powerful.

    So THAT is why we can’t just sit back and blindly “trust” this pack of jackals that currently reside in Washington. We need to evaluate for ourselves whether the decisions they are making are in the best interest of the country, and increasingly, THEY ARE NOT.

    What you describe is idealistic, it’s how things ought to be — but it is NOT that way now. Maybe being out of the country for three years has kept you from seeing what’s been going on here, but the rest of us have suffered the effects of this economic crash, the high unemployment, the loss in value of our homes and investment accounts, the pay cuts, the benefit cuts — and what is Congress doing about it? Giving money to Big Business to keep IT healthy and throwing the rest of us to the wolves, while mortgaging our future with a staggering and unprecedented national debt.

    Then they think throwing us a bone by pretending health care will be more accessible will keep us willing to re-elect them.

    Sorry, I don’t trust any of them any more. If anyone gets re-elected in the next six years, it will be proof only that the fools in a country can make the majority, if I can paraphrase Mark Twain. And we deserve the government we get.

    • Nancy July 5, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

      @Debra Speakes, I totally understand that many American politicians have been bought out by corporate interests. I would love to see an end to that, but unless it’s mandated by law I don’t see it happening. I do think the fact that I’ve been out of the USA for most of the past 25 years has colored my vision and I see things differently from most Americans.

      That said, I’ve seen – first hand – the effects of a lot of the things I hear a lot of people saying they want in this country and I don’t want America to go there. As you say, be careful what you wish for – you might just get it. That’s goes for all of us.

  6. Oletta July 7, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    For me, the bottom line is this: “It’s not yours to give.” http://www.constitutionparty.com/documents/Crockett_CPweb_.pdf When the government steps in to solve a societal problem, they usually make it worse. Insurance is a scheme. Who was the sly fox that convinced masses of people to PAY for what they hoped they’d never need?! Instead of getting rid of this immoral “lottery”, government tries to regulate it, making it even more costly and complicated. It’s true, we will always have the poor among us, ill-equipped to pay for all the medical services they may need. But when government decides to confiscate my property to give it to a stranger, there is little accountability and much loss of blessings. I’d much rather give my neighbor $50 to see a doctor, bring them soup and babysit their kids while they recuperate than have the government waste at least a quarter of my “investment” and deny me the privilege of loving service. True, some family members, neighbors and churches won’t engage in this duty and society loses. But forcing 5 of my neighbors to give $50 to a stranger is THEFT, whether I do it or the government does it. Remember, the government doesn’t have any money to give – they must confiscate it. Congress has authority to tax the people for CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED purposes. See Article 1, Section 8. Truth be told, according to current welfare statistics, at least half of our population will never pay for health insurance, whether the government mandates it, penalizes it or taxes it! The half of the population who are gainfully employed and paying taxes WILL PAY IT ALL. Just the way we do now, with state-subsidized medical care for the indigent. But now, this will be even more costly and complicated as it grinds its way through the bowels of Washington. Sadly, the reason we’ve gotten so deep into this mire is because our culture has been duped into believing that disease and death are avoidable. (Prime time ads prove this.) We’ve traded the blessings of caring for one another and dying with dignity for a futile attempt to deny the inevitable. Yes, people will get sick and die with or without health insurance provided by the private sector or the government. The truth remains: IT’S NOT YOURS TO GIVE.

    • Nancy July 7, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

      @Oletta, It’s an interesting idea, in any case. If everyone did give $50 to their neighbor to see the doc, that would be awesome. Truth be told, that doesn’t work either. No perfect solution, but I still feel the prevailing attitude of Every Man for Himself is not doing America any good at all.

      • Oletta July 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

        Perhaps this is why our Founders credited the Creator for endowing us with “inalienable rights”. When we forget this, we forget that rights always come with responsibilities!

  7. Living Outside of the Box July 12, 2012 at 9:11 pm #

    I agree with you…we can’t have it all. There are compromises that are necessary, no matter where you live!

  8. Izy Berry July 24, 2012 at 1:48 am #

    I think the biggest “lack” of freedom America has, is the healthcare system. It should be a right, not a business. I hate reading stories about people who were financially crippled because their medical care ran out and they needed emergency cover. Yes, they should have had insurance, but I think in a western world each citizen should have a right to the basic necessities.

    Considering how much America spends on war in other countries, it would be nice if they spent a little more on their own people.

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