Good citizenship takes sturdy belief in something beyond ourselves, and how to adjust to all that may be around us. But it also has to do with what is within us, and its path of progression. Else why are we free?
The ability to “act” in life is the moment we become free. The engine of liberty starts then. Acting is how we dream, and the way we get better. It’s also a way to relieve life’s pressures when they fold in around us, yield to light over darkness in life and, perhaps, even drive us a shade closer to who we are in the universe. These are mostly internal battles, not external ones, and they are fought more with the heart than the head.
Acting, the true castle of our character, lives in a realm of risk because it is about tomorrow. Continuously acting is, by nature, dynamic. It opens life’s mental frontiers to us. It shapes who we become. The arena of individual action – or personal destiny – is the essence of The American Dream’s founding, and the ultimate purpose we must cover and protect most.
We are never the same once we discover more truth for ourselves. Every action creates us anew. Through growth, we change. In becoming new, we first are led to make other choices. This path of progression then lies within us. It’s responsibilities rest within us. The consequences we produce must then be resolved within – far more than through “things” around us.
Acting stretches across all of life: from it; we go up, we go down, then up again. One might say, acting is a steady conversion of the human soul.
To think freely – to freely act – precedes even rights of free assembly, speech, press, or prayer. If conscience is the root of liberty, character is its ethical home. And the spirit of charity is the oil paving the growth of both.
While conscience is first among any tier of freedoms, we often wear other badges of identity. The two most prevalent are choices and causes. We make valued choices, for example, all the time. Choose a school. Get a degree. Select a career. Marry. Save and buy. Borrow. Spend. Invest. Enter contracts. Secure property. Pick hobbies. Create something. Alter priorities. Find our faith. And much, much more. As for causes, we are a society of them today. Many are great ones, and we are known for rallying behind the leading public issues of our time well.
The choices we make and causes that matter are a huge part of liberty, but neither are ultimately at the heart of it as much as conscience and character. Because choices often surrender to fad or fashion, they can occur in a vacuum. But character never does, for character is who we are. Character pulls poor choices back within ourselves, at times, to amend. Choices are a means of freedom, less an end.
As for causes, they can easily splinter society today. Often full of goodwill, they sometimes coat selfish agendas and press mere liberty of viewpoint. But liberty of view is not the same as liberty of conscience. Wrapped as a yoke which assumes others have to see things our way, liberty of view actually can misapprehend our rights by pressing upon, even skewing, the conscience of others.
Conscience, the crown jewel of our liberty, expresses itself as character. Humbly perfecting both in life is a hard ladder to climb. For most of us, it takes all the energy we can muster within to give up faulty assumptions we hold, repair ourselves, expand our vision of life, make tomorrow better than today, and chisel our finest natures with care and confidence over a lifetime. For virtue is never borrowed. It must be acquired.
Virtue comes upon us one by one. Through life’s gifts of grace, it wins the day and eventually can spread from millions to other millions – and, one day, touch a whole population. This is the ultimate repayment to ourselves and to society for the liberty it bestows upon us uniquely as Americans. A democracy must be built bottom up by nature and not top down.
Much as fire destroys the dross in gold, our inner constitution is the means for strengthening and perfecting our citizenship as a Republic. Our future rests on assuming such an obligation. The Public Square, in fact, holds we have no other choice, and that we may be starting to own this frontier. For its seed lies in the faith bred by the American Revolution and the promise locked into our Constitutional Founding.