Pathway to Liberty

   Posted by: Chen   in

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence

roadIt is raining hard again. I don’t remember another Texas October with this much rain. This non-stop rain has completely messed up my routine. I couldn’t focus on what I am supposedly of doing.

I decide to give up. Maybe it is time to do something else. Some of my friends have been suggesting that I should start a blog. I thought that was an intriguing idea. But, for a long while, I did not know where to start, and was not sure whether I have the self-discipline to keep it going.

Well, maybe, I am thinking, the rain could provide enough “juice” to get it off the ground.

I am going to give it a try, starting with some thoughts I wanted to share for quite some time now.

I am a first generation immigrant. I consider myself as someone willingly taking the steps of going through the “naturalization” process, a process that transcends from living in fear to the recognition of the inherent spirit of liberty. Of course, I am still a work-in-progress. For many years, I kept re-visiting the speech given by Judge Learned Hand, on May 21, 1944 in the “I Am an American Day” ceremony. The speech has become my instant reference on executing my duty as a citizen.

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion. Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same. For this reason we have some right to consider ourselves a picked group, a group of those who had the courage to break from the past and brave the dangers and the loneliness of a strange land.

What was the object that nerved us, or those who went before us, to this choice? We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves. This we then sought; this we now believe that we are by way of winning.

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.

And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be; nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it; yet in the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.

I am continuously fascinated by the implementation the Founding Fathers of this great nation engineered in transforming an ideal into a political and social architecture. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder how those great minds arrived the same time in the same place, how were they, all with strong personalities and vast wisdom, able to work together in crafting a blueprint that would guild a nation in preserving and protecting the most fundamental rights of mankind for generations to come. I am in complete agreement with the suggestion made by Joseph Costello in his book Consent of the Governed: “One should approach the legacy of the Founding Fathers with a sense of reverence and awe. It is the brightest shining governance star ever created by the mind of man.”


alex and macy

When first came to the United States in 1982 with a background no such rights were respected, busy school work and language barrier did not allow me to fully embrace the significance of the freedom. It took an elongated process of melting. In 1989, a thorough democratic process took place in forming the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. I for the first time felt the joy derived from exercising personal rights, and the noble fertile of the democratic procedures. The spirit of individual liberty started soaking in rapidly. Amid this transition, I witnessed the sacrifices people made and are continuously making in all parts of the world in their pursuit of justice and liberty, supplemented myself with the missing lessons on civil rights movements and the extraordinary vision, leadership, and conviction many great leaders ahead of us exhibited, from Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln, from MLK to JFK. As I walk on the path that has been paved for people like myself, I frequently remind myself about the expanded personal and social responsibilities. I treasure the fundamental principles in the constitution that guarantee each and every one the individual rights including freedom of speech.

No, I don’t take any of these rights for granted. Neither do I take them lightly. I sometimes worry how fragile they can be. I am often cautious that we sometimes loose sights of the constitution when we put politics over and above the individual rights. It is my strong conviction that we must constantly remind ourselves that individuals have certain rights that no law may take away, not even with a democratically conducted voting process.

I don’t know a lot about M. Grundler. But it is hard for me to ignore the man for his this famous quote: “It is easy to take liberty for granted when you have never had it taken from you.”

For a long time, it never belonged to me.

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