What is freedom? For a country that has used freedom as its very soul for more than two centuries, one might think any of us — as Americans — would know the answer to that question.
But the truth is, we don’t. Freedom for one person has an entirely different meaning to another person. Among the definitions written by Merriam-Webster, freedom is “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.”
One popular lay definition of freedom is often attributed to one of our most quote-worthy U.S. Supreme Court justices of all time, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., which described freedom as “your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.”
If Holmes really did say this, no one ever documented it. Still, whoever the author, they make a very significant point: While our freedoms in the United States are quite expansive, they are not limitless. In fact, those freedoms end where someone else’s begin.
For example, one freedom we have is the right to own property. But we can’t just take someone’s property from them, because then we are infringing on their very same right.
It’s also why we’re not free to murder. Life is a liberty that is granted to us by default, and if someone deprives you of that right, then your freedom has been infringed. Plus you’re, well, dead.
While the debate over freedom is a long and very old one, some new arguments have surfaced since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that just don’t make sense. That somehow getting vaccinated or simply wearing a face covering is a matter of individual choice.
We won’t even begin to get into the irony of that statement from those who also share anti-abortion views — but getting the vaccine and wearing a mask is not a personal decision.
It’s not like choosing to eat chocolate cake for every meal, every day. You do that, you will become obese, you will develop other serious health problems, and ultimately it could significantly shorten your life.
You don’t wear a mask, or you don’t get vaccinated, sure you are putting your own life in danger. But you’re also putting the lives of everyone else around you in danger. Your swinging fist is not stopping where the other man’s nose begins. Instead, it’s hitting him full force, and could very well be a deadly blow.
It’s not that there aren’t real issues of people’s freedoms and civil liberties being violated. But if you think being forced to wear a mask or get a shot is one of those violations, it’s time to take out that civics book again.