The Responsibilities of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
by Clint Watson on 7/4/2007 9:43:36 AM
“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” We all know these words. These are our “inalienable rights.” Our republic was founded upon them. We celebrate them today, as we celebrate the 231st birthday of the great American Experiment.
We all know what we’re celebrating this independence day, but we contend that what the founders wrote is actually only half the story. So this independence day, let’s take a guess at why the founders felt it important that we had our “inalienable rights.”
Obviously the greatest gift of all – the gift of life. Our laws protect us from having our lives taken. If our lives are taken, there is a justice system. We have much to thank God for here, just by the virtue of being American. Even in recent times, yes even today, people live in fear of having their lives taken at any moment based upon the whims of their leaders.
Think about places like Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur. Be thankful you live in the United States. But why is life important? What is the meaning of life? If our life is protected, don’t we have a responsibility to do something with it?
We’ve been reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, a holocaust survivor. We feel he put it best when describing the realization he and his fellow prisoners came to regarding their lives. He wrote, “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and furthermore had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”
So while we should be thankful for the gift of life, and a country that protects that gift, what are we doing with our lives? What does life expect from us? What is our responsibility?
We are free. We can do what we want to do. We have liberty. And what do we do? Far too many of us follow the activities of “Brangelina” and the incarceration of Paris Hilton. But, back to Frankl.
Frankl writes, “Freedom is only part of the story and half the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.” In other words, freedom is meaningless without responsibility. You are free to do what you want to do. How are you using your freedom? What is your responsibility?
The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness. We all want it. The founders wisely realized that they couldn’t guarantee the “right” to happiness, but only the right to “try” to be happy, or to “pursue” happiness.
But how, specifically, does one “pursue” happiness? We find, ironically, that the only way to “pursue” happiness is to pursue something else! You can’t directly pursue happiness; you can only gain happiness as a by-product of other activities. We are happiest when pursuing activities that give our lives meaning.
We’re happy when we’re working to improve our business to provide better service for our clients. We’re happy spending time with our family. We’re happy when we’re volunteering with charitable organizations. Sometimes, the more difficult the circumstances, the happier we are! That’s because happiness stems from activities that are meaningful, and meaningful activities are those that help you fulfill your responsibilities as a person….the responsibilities that life is demanding of you. Amazingly, Frankl even sometimes found “happiness” while enduring unimaginable suffering inside a Nazi prison camp!
Rights are Gifts
We all have been given gifts by our Creator, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are just the beginning. As artists, you have been given a gift for creating beauty out of paint, canvas or clay. As a programmer, your editor has been given a gift for turning ideas in his head into useful pieces of software that help other people.
Our beleaguered point is this:
We all have a responsibility at each moment to create meaning with our gifts. As an artist, you have a responsibility to share your gift with the rest of us. You can create unimaginable beauty with your mind and with your hands. Every piece you complete potentially brings joy into this world. Every piece you don’t complete is lost to the world forever. Life is transitory. You only have so much time . . . . create as much art as you can for yourself and for the rest of us. And thank God that you live in a country that recognizes our rights and our gifts.
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic
PS: Have a safe and responsible Independence Day.
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