As the Fourth of July nears each year, I read the Declaration of Independence to remind me how life under a tyrant might be. This reading helps me appreciate how precious our Constitution and Bill of Rights are to my life.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, thought and wrote extensively on the issues surrounding what our founding fathers saw as ”unalienable rights” that included but weren’t limited to ”Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Jefferson wrote, ”That government is best which governs the least because its people discipline themselves.”
As adults it is our job to be self-disciplined and help our children develop the inner strength to become independent.
Our challenge is to help our children attain independence and not have to declare independence by rebelling.
Inscriptions on the ancient Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi held two messages that speak to us across the ages: ”Nothing in excess” and ”Know thyself.” The Greeks understood that a good life free from tyranny took a group’s individual self-discipline coupled with the self-awareness derived from this inner strength.
”The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government and should be our first object,” Jefferson wrote.
Jefferson thought that the aim of government should be giving the greatest number of people possible the largest amount of freedom possible. Preserving individual freedoms through the will of people working together should form the basis of a governing system, with checks and balances coming into play to prevent tyranny.
In terms of the development of the child, we might paraphrase Jefferson and say, ”The will of the child is the only legitimate foundation of a person and should be our first object.”
Jefferson thought it was easier to deal with more freedom than with restrictions. He penned these words: ”I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
When we err in giving our children too little freedom, we risk rebellion, aggressive behavior or the undermining of our efforts as our children struggle for independence. With unwarranted restrictions we put our children at risk for not being able to develop themselves to be individuals with unique gifts to give the world.
With too much freedom, we may put our children at risk of failure when the corresponding responsibilities for specific freedoms are not established.
Again, it is through the development of self-discipline and the practice of using free will constructively that readies our children for true freedom and the attainment of independence.
It is the struggle against tyranny that may keep our children from attaining their own power. Tyranny is power held by a single individual who holds vast if not absolute power. The term ”tyrant” connotes a harsh and cruel ruler whose self-interests supercede the rights of others. Our children may come across tyranny, in blatant or subtle forms, in their homes, in their schools, among their friends or in other activities.
In our efforts to exert control and preserve order we must be constantly vigilant to protect the rights of our children to pursue life, liberty and happiness, to help ensure that our children have opportunities to develop their potential.
Let us not be tyrants. Our job is to help our children attain independence through self-discipline and self-awareness. These are some of the qualities and responsibilities that lead to the freedom of an individual and the freedom of a country.