September 11 Reflection, for Kids: Do the Twin Towers Still Stand in 2014?


By Shawn StJean

On this date, the anniversary of our great national tragedy, we often invite ourselves and others to “reflect.”  That is the purpose of this short primer.  It is intended for younger children–those born since 2001, perhaps, but we can all use reminders, sometimes.

“. . .life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . .”  –Declaration of Independence

“. . .secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. . .” –U.S. Constitution

“. . .with liberty and justice for all.”–Pledge of Allegiance

“. . .give me liberty or give me death”–Patrick Henry

We often speak carelessly of FREEDOM today, and the word has become a replacement somehow for a more complex concept that forms the first symbolic pillar or tower of our republic, as its founders conceived it: LIBERTY.  Rarely will you find the word “freedom” as you study the early documents of our country, but the word liberty is abundant.

What is the difference between freedom and liberty?

The second contains the first.  Freedom is the right and ability to do whatever you want.  LIBERTY is the right and ability to do whatever you want, as long as it does not interfere with the rights and abilities of others.

In short, liberty is freedom with limits, just as a republic (what we really live in) is a democracy (what we say we live in,) with limits.

Think of a stoplight: it’s, to me, the perfect symbol for liberty.  Without it, two cars approach an intersection, each driver freely pursuing his happiness, and often this works fine.  But, by chance, it may not: BANG! Collision.  With a stoplight in place, each citizen agrees to surrender a small piece of his freedom (in this case, time) so that everyone can remain free.  Other examples can be substituted: the paying of taxes to support government programs, service in the military, even the trouble it takes to educate oneself to vote.  Young people contribute, too, by sharing, by standing in line and waiting their turn, by walking up public stairwells on the right side, by respecting another person’s right to speak, or be different.  All require a limitation on total freedom.  So when you hear the phrase “Freedom isn’t free!,” you are hearing about the sacrifice required for the greater standard of LIBERTY.

People say “It’s a free country,” as if that were a struggle that ended 200 years ago, or 70 years ago, with our grandparents.  But our country is only as free as each one of us can make it, today.  As the American abolitionist Henry Thoreau wrote, “We have used up all our inherited freedom.”  And songwriter Tom Petty continued his thought: “Everybody has to fight to be free.”  “Fighting” may not be as dramatic as it sounds, day-to-day.  It may only be not interrupting someone else, or cutting the lawn for Mom without having to be bribed, or apologizing when you hurt someone, or doing your homework (which means contributing your fair share,) or helping another kid who’s having trouble.

Liberty is, without question, the first pillar or tower of our society.  It can never be laid low by outsiders: We can only do it to ourselves, by forgetting a simple concept: if everybody isn’t free, then nobody is free.

As for the second tower, I think the existence of the first enables the freedom for every free person to build it for herself or himself.  In the coin pictured above, the Goddess of Liberty holds both a symbol of Peace (an olive branch) and a symbol of Vigilance and Defense (a shield).  Notice, no offensive weapons.  In fact, this original design reveals a mother’s bare breast, suggesting Health, Kindness, and Love.  The gate she strides through names God.  For others, a pillar of their lives might be Generosity, or Charity, or Strength, Courage, Fortitude, or Intelligence.

So what’s your second tower?  And, Never Forget (as they say on this important anniversary,) that everyone has the right to build her own.



Speech May Be Free, But It Sure Ain’t Cheap


Now that Election Day has arrived, we might take a moment (perhaps while standing in line for a booth, waiting to vote for one of the two available parties,) to be thankful for our freedoms [insert your favorite one here.]  The freedom to publish the following post is vitally appreciated, believe me.

I’ll be especially grateful to be free of campaign advertisements of the smear-and-attack variety.  I haven’t seen much bash-Obama or anti-Romney stuff on TV this past week, but I sure hate it when the local Democrats and Republicans pre-empt my IPad endorsements, just to sling mud back and forth like two-eleven-year-olds who never have to come home to dinner.

The brilliant strategy being, I guess, to make potential supporters negatively associate one’s opponent’s name with bad leadership, waste, and lying, as least as much as they do oneself.  Because if I see/hear Brand Y’s ads 12 times per hour, and Brand X’s only 7 times per hour, and being as uninformed/ignorant as I am, well, I have damn-near no choice but to mindlessly go and cast a ballot for Y, right?

I’d really just rather get back to being sold on some product I don’t need, a service that promises what it fails to deliver, an idea that can’t be put into practice, or persuaded to take an action that makes me believe I matter.  Yeah, that would be a nice, refreshing change from politics.

Speaking of dinner, ask yourself: in order to run all those “necessary” attack ads, how many teachers went without needed seats, books, and supplies, how many veterans without physical and mental therapy, how many police and fire departments and hospitals without vital staff and equipment for protecting the community?  And how many people got laid off this year because the corporations that employed them made big donations, or otherwise supported the political machine? How many people in the path of Hurricane Sandy could use the reported $50,000 the American flag shown above cost?

How many little election trinkets have we all seen that would never in 100 years change our minds about who to vote for, let alone huge billboards, candidate biographies, countless phone calls by robots, and all those lovely e-mails?  Elections aren’t quite the monsters at throwing good money after bad that wars (of the military variety) are, but they sure seem like it, when the war in your back yard is a media war.

My point is a simple one.  Some people will try to convince you that all money is not the same, just like during the Vietnam War, when they told Martin Luther King that the billions spent on that war were not coming out of social programs in the U.S.  He disagreed, and 45 years later I still find his position more compelling.  If my oversized hunk of the pie didn’t take anything out of your mouth, whose mouth did it come out of?  They don’t grow on trees.

How many kids are losing decent futures in our country, by slow degrees, because the people with access now to money spend it not only foolishly, but downright selfishly?