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Getting under Bono's skin: Responsaliberty


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Responsibility. Commitment. Big, serious, scary words. Words that imply decisions, actions, consequences. But freedom... ahhhh freedom! The 'do anything, go anywhere, experience everything, worry about nothing' kind of freedom. An open, light, sunlight bright word. However, like the masculine and feminine, yin and yang, the sun and moon, freedom and responsibility are interdependant opposites - each is meaningless without the other. And the way we balance these two in our individual lives, to a certain extent, defines who we are.

But are we really free? Are even our impulsive, 'natural' actions predetermined by influences outside our control - emotions, conditioning, age, sex, star-signs or hormones? Fear not, the experts are always at hand with theories and research and discoveries and more theories. According to the wisdom of evolutionary psychology, we are genetically designed to fall in love. Very reassuring news, as I am about to make the permanent commitment of marriage. Unfortunately, it also seems that we are genetically designed to be unfaithful. Not so reassuring! Here am I, caught up in the first innocence of love, assuming that the marriage vow 'till death us do part' is supposed to be taken literally - not 'till genetic instincts us do part'. Two out of every five marriages here in Britain now end in divorce - sobering stuff. If I decide to free-fall, relying on my natural instincts to make this relationship last, I am going to go splat.

So what's left? Nothing but a decision - to take on a responsibility - to my partner, to the children we may have and through them to the fabric of community. My genes and hormones are single minded sods. They don't have hearts or consciences, they don't understand love or tenderness, loyalty or commitment. But I do.

Janet Leggat, UK


Asked to design a house, few will start with a table. An outline of walls, placement of windows and doors define the boundaries within which space can exist and be expressed in content and colour.

Parents define boundaries for their children early on. "Don't punch your little sister!", "Don't put your hand in the fire!" The "don'ts" are so few that they are more easily learned. The "do's" are too numerous to mention. Those few "no's" establish a sort of safety code. In all religious traditions a few basic "no's" are prescribed for the health and spiritual growth of individuals and the community. Over the years some re-interpretations are sometimes needed as essentials get confused with cultural niceties. But there is a basic unity on suggested no-go, destructive areas of life; violence, theft, disloyalty, hatred and sexual promiscuity among them.

At some point, sooner rather than later, parents have to let go and trust that their precious kids will choose for themselves the ethical code that will enhance their personhood and maturity.

In the name of freedom, a lot of people try to do away with the "no's". With no sense of personal or societal boundaries they get 'lost in space', unsure of identity or self-worth. There was a great song once about skin. "Where would we be without skin...? It keeps the outside out and the inside in!" Our no's and yes's not only protect but define us.

Two men were standing in the street, one swinging his umbrella. "Hey, look out", cautioned the other. "I am free to swing my umbrella", responded the first. "Your freedom ends where my nose begins", was the retort.

There are codes of conduct, there are standards of morality, there are commonly accepted no's, there are laws within which freedom can fully exist. There comes a time with adulthood when the imposed standards and expectations of parents and society chafe and we want to shed them like an old skin. The new skin needs to grow from our response to the needs of the world, from our innate respect for ourselves and all life. We discover we actually want to be honest, we prefer selflessness, we reject hate and prejudice in favour of love and compassion. We want to be part of the creative, constructive spirit in the world and so we choose to be the best we can. It is called freedom with responsibility, hence our new word - "responsaliberty!"

Jean Brown, Australia

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:19:59 (EEST).
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