We often think of freedom as the opposite of slavery. In Canada, and in Edmonton, we have many freedoms, but they come with responsibilities. We do have choices about what freedoms we accept. Is there such a thing as freedom without responsibility?
Africans were caught, chained, brought to North America, and sold as possessions to landowners. They had no choice, no freedoms. They did what they were told, and didn’t have a choice of who they could talk to or marry. Their lives were completely ruled by their owners. A few chose to run away to find freedom, and some came to Canada. Some were caught and whipped or hung – they were punished for making the choice they made, which served as examples so other slaves would not try to run away.
Today in Canada, in Alberta, in Edmonton, we have many freedoms and choices. We can choose to live wherever we want, if we can afford to buy a house or condo, or pay rent. We can choose to furnish our homes however we want, if we can afford it. We can choose to maintain our yards or behave however we want within our homes, as long as we do not disturb our neighbours, or hurt our families. Basically, we are free to do whatever we want as long as it does not hurt or bother others. That is the responsibility of choice – our rights or freedoms are limited by consideration for others. Our freedoms cannot infringe on our neighbours.
If we choose to live in any community, neighbourhood, town or city, province or country, we accept the rules or laws that govern those lands. The laws guide our freedoms. If we break the local laws, our freedoms may be taken away, and we may be sent to jail, where we lose our freedoms.
All freedom has responsibility. Some people choose to live in rural areas, where they seem to have more freedoms, but they also have more responsibility for providing their own water and services. We lived on an old farmstead outside Edmonton for six years, and had to keep the well water flowing and our long driveway clear. My daughters and I learned how to maintain the well and driveway, we mended fences, but there were no sidewalks to keep clear. We quickly learned about the trade-offs. We paid lower taxes but were responsible for more upkeep on the farm. In Edmonton, we had a smaller yard to keep up, and kept our sidewalks clear, but we paid more taxes, because we had more services.
So are we really free to do whatever we want? No – we must always consider the rights and freedoms of all our neighbours. Freedom comes with responsibility – we can express ourselves however we want, shout, play music, or party all night, or be as messy as we want, as long as what we do doesn’t bother or hurt our own families or our neighbours. The choice to live in a community is a freedom in itself, but common rules and laws guide us. We have the responsibility to consider the welfare and freedoms of our neighbours – and all the people around us, wherever we choose to live.
Dr. Joanne McNeal is a retired art education professor, artist, singer and musician. She has lived in McCauley for almost 12 years.