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The Chains of Freedom

By Doris Deits

Recent debates and discussion regarding health care costs and the growing numbers of sickness and disease in this country have raised questions about our personal responsibility to the larger group of society. Is my health or lack of health a national concern? Yes it is, and so is yours.

One can argue that America is lagging behind the progressive efforts of other countries that currently provide universal health care for their citizens. I feel strongly that all people have a right to health care, but we do have to confront the fact that America is also considered the sickest nation in the world. If we don’t reduce the amount of disease and illness in our society, there is no way that America or ANY country can shoulder the financial burden of so many sick people.

America’s biggest avoidable health care plague is Obesity. Sugar, salt, fat – too much of this makes too much of us. Everyone knows the culmination of illness that excessive weight brings to the table. We also know the key ingredients for good health are moderate exercise, clean water, eating your veggies and staying away from the junk food. Michelle Obama, Jaime Oliver, The Biggest Loser and many others have been promoting the fight against obesity and the illness it creates for years. And yet, the obesity rates continue to rise and our nation’s health continues to decline.

But we here in America love our freedom and we love our addictions! Sugar is my drug of choice – if it’s dipped in chocolate, I probably want to eat it. Even though I don’t have a weight issue, I know that if I don’t keep this addiction in check I will create problems with the function of my pancreas, hardening of artery tissue along with a million other destructive side effects of too much sugar in the body. But even if I do eat too much sugar, so what! This is America and if I want to kill myself with sugar, that’s my choice, right?

The only problem with my freedom of ‘death by chocolate’ scenario is that I probably won’t die suddenly. I will die slowly as my organs begin to fail to function properly, I feel sick, I get pills, etc. My unhealthy choices have created illness with the potential of long term medical dependency. It’s not just about me anymore. Perhaps we as a nation are hiding from the responsibility of our abusive behavior by waiving around a flawed belief of freedom.

Let’s face it. People don’t really want ‘freedom.’ We want freedom without being responsible for the consequences of our actions. We see this attitude reflected when our kids break a lamp, or when a mining company strips the land of all its resources and leaves behind a toxic wasteland for the surrounding community to deal with, or when I eat too many cookies. Perhaps we all have a bigger responsibility to society to make healthier choices.

People want complete freedom to own guns, but they don’t want to accept the inherent dangers of living in a society that has complete access to guns. Wall Street wants complete freedom to run the stock exchange without responsibility to those who lose retirement savings in their rigged games. Corporations want freedom to create food addictions without a care as to its contribution to the nation’s obesity problems.

We like freedom, not responsibility. This unwillingness to act responsibly is impacting our nation in a destructive way, on many fronts. We must begin to define our personal responsibilities to the greater whole of our society if we are to move forward in a progressive way. We all want certain things from our communities, but we need to ask what we are willing to contribute so that all of us can have a better quality of life.

Freedom isn’t the ‘free for all’ we would like it to be. Freedom has a flip side of responsibility because we are not just individuals – we are each a link in the chain of Humanity. We are connected to each other whether we like it or not. When I make healthy choices for myself, I am helping everyone.

The time has come for all of us to pull our heads out of the denial sandbox and have lots of meaningful discussion over Freedom vs. Responsibility. The reality of life is that you can’t have one without the other, and we as a society must be willing to embrace this attitude and make progressive, healthy choices and decisions not only for the good of ourselves but also for our communities.

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