The meaning of a word can change over time. For example, “bully” used to mean darling, sweetheart or fine fellow. It now means harasser of the weak. “Gay” used to mean light hearted or joyous. It now means homosexual. “Freedom” used to mean escape from the controlling authority of others. The meaning of that word appears to be changing also.
I have a transcript of a PBS television program called “Frontline” that was broadcast in June of 1983. The program was titled: “The Russians Are Here.” It explored the different views that different peoples hold regarding what it means “to be free.”
The PBS documentary focused on some of more than 100,000 Russian immigrants who had come to America since 1971. Here is what some of these newcomers and their counselors had to say:
Dr. Gregory Simkin (psychiatrist) – “If you have a conversation with Soviet immigrants, everybody will tell you ‘definitely I want to be free.’ But when you go farther, you see this person does not understand what real freedom is.”
Marina Kovalyov – “Well, in Russia it is really secure. Most of the people when they graduate from college, they get their position. And most of them, they hold their position until the end of their days. They don’t want to have any changes, even though they are not satisfied. So many people in Russia are dreaming of that freedom. They were repeating that word hundreds and hundreds of times. But no one of them really realized what was that. [sic] They didn’t think that freedom was to go and look for a job, freedom to go fight for your future, freedom to go and find something for your kids, freedom to decide what you are going to do tomorrow. So, freedom really becomes very terrifying.”
Lev Khalif (Russian writer) – “In Russia, the writer is a prophet. Here no one will listen. I actually miss the KGB. They paid attention to me. They were the first to read my manuscripts thoroughly. It was wonderful to have real attention. You feel important. You feel like a real writer.”
Michael Kroll – “In America is now Communism. [sic] It exists. It’s not my opinion, it’s a fact. Communism is very simple to understand. It’s the idea in which everybody has food, shelter and can survive. OK? So society here has benefits, social benefits like welfare, Medicare, housing. So it means that they don’t give anything, but they have everything of necessity. This is Communism. It exists here, as it was planned by Karl Marx.”
Many Americans, like many of those Russians, have come to believe that “freedom” is the automatic presence of life’s goodies – the presence of free food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care; the presence of nondiscrimination; the presence of status and recognition; the presence of equality that prohibits higher levels of achievement by others.
In reality “freedom,” in the spirit of 1776, does not mean the automatic presence of any of these things. It means just the opposite. Freedom is an absence – an absence of everything except government’s protection of our individual right (and responsibility) to make our own way.
A former county commissioner once told me: “If we’re moving towards Socialism in this country, it’s because the people want Socialism.” He could be right. However, I’m betting young Americans – like their forebears – will get a belly full of government’s version of the “good life” and opt for the original definition of “freedom” instead – which is: an “absence” of government’s plan for my life and the liberty to pursue happiness my own way.
Here’s to America re-discovering what Lady Liberty is all about — You Go Girl !