Restraint is the freedom we all-too-often forget

Restraint is the freedom we all-too-often forget

It’s a phrase I like to remember about this time every year. My father credits writer Gerald Cragy for its origin: “We may possess a freedom we need not practice.”

In his writings from nearly two decades ago, Dad used Cragy’s statement to examine our hard-earned freedoms, specifically our freedom of speech:

“Freedom is used today to excuse and cover all sorts of ills in our society,” he wrote. “Filmmakers hide behind this sacred freedom to justify violence, nudity, and language that gutter what could be great drama. Novelists and other writers follow in step with the trend. In a review of current literature, someone observed: ‘Not since Manhattan was purchased from Native Americans for twenty-plus dollars has so much dirt been available so cheap.'”

Then my father concluded with words that have stayed with me all these years:

“Real freedom is freedom ‘not-to’ do what I am free to do if it has a negative impact on other people. We may possess knowledge we need not impart, an opinion we need not voice, an observation we need not reveal, and feelings we need not express. Freedom not-to act is freedom practiced with responsibility.”

Sometimes truth is so timeless.

Everyone has an opinion, a fact that proves we have the capacity to think. Yet, an unexpressed opinion can be a virtue, especially at a flashpoint in an explosive situation.

And, we can’t help how we feel. Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they just are. When someone hits us with a fist, or with hurtful words, we feel the impact. No amount of positive thinking can make us not feel the punch and pain.

So often we cannot control what brings us pain, whether in home life, love life or business life. But we can control how we respond. We can hit back with fists or slap back with words. We have that freedom.

But we also have “the freedom not-to.”

We can choose when to respond and how to respond or even if to respond. Some of our best thinking may guide us to wait and reflect before choosing an action.

However, whether we intend to or not, action by action, our behaviors reflect who we are. What we say and do, and the way in which we do it, reveals our character.

So when we respond too quickly, too fully or too dramatically – even though we have the freedom to do so – our character is right out there with it. We can’t rewind and delete or even modify what’s been said, much less control its impact on our reputation.

Warren Buffett states it clearly: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

We have the freedom not-to. Perhaps it’s our greatest possession, and our best exercise of real freedom and responsible living.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli is the daughter of the late Dr. R.F. Smith Jr., a longtime columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Twitter @chairwriter

First published 7/3/16 Herald-Dispatch

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