By Peter McConnell

In the novel, “East Of Eden” John Steinbeck summarizes his masterpiece by describing the “greatest word in all of mankind” – Timshel. It’s the Hebraic word which literally means, “thou mayest”. In Genesis, it’s the word God uses to instruct Cain that he mayest rule over sin…. lest it will rule over him. Cain chose poorly, of course, and whacked his brother anyway. The story, whether one interprets it as as inspired scripture or myth, speaks to the inscrutable subject of WILL, and demonstrates that the inherent greatness of man, God’s highest creation, was not lessened by his yielding to impulses of pride, hatred and selfishness, but, rather, strengthened by his empowerment to choose otherwise.
Mankind is endowed with what our forefathers call “inalienable rights,” which transcend our mere choices for what to be when we grow up. More fundamental to the subject of liberty is our human capacity to overcome the obstacles of our base impulses and BE a man or woman of our own choosing. How much we take for granted, and squander this Freedom. The principles of our nation were wrought from the minds and hearts of those who fully understood the rights of man to be free, and the power inherent within those rights. Their “enlightenment” came during an age when freedom flourished only in will and wit, giving rise to a prosperous nation that apprehended its meaning and fully exploited its opportunities.
Our present age is marked more by entitlement than enlightenment.  Too many even feel entitled to their enlightenment, by accepting the cultural values and ideas without subjecting them to proper scxrutiny.    Nothing dishonors our nation’s legacy more than this kind of intellectual dishonesty and laziness, as it reaps the harvest of the American idea, while abandoning and UNDERMINING its fundamental principles…all in the name of “progress.” If freedom is the bedrock of our great nation, and, indeed, the greatest gift we ushered into the world, we should be the beacon of what that truly means. Instead, we have become complacent, and squandered our freedom by surrendering our freethinking minds to fashionable and convenient ideologies. We stand in line for a delicious beverage and don’t even ask ourselves what’s in the punch bowl. We simply cannot choose to be a nation of strength and noble character without EACH of us taking full measure of our own potential, independent of whatever one thinks is stacked against them.
Popular rhetoric today subverts the concept of freedom to mean something closer to “wit Hoyt cost.” Paradoxically, it’s just the opposite. If you’re floating downstream, you might feel free, but your holding your freedom in your hands. Where you want to go doesn’t matter if you don’t choose to exercise that tool. Where you actually go depends on how much effort you’re willing to put forth. It’s a transaction. That outcome isn’t free at all. And that river doesn’t owe you anything more than the paddle in your hands. Want a motor? Build one.
It’s hard to be human and build strength of character and intelligence. I think that’s the idea, though, isn’t it? Where’s the virtue if it just sprouts up like fur on a chia pet? Just add CNN, a college degree, and Stephen Colbert, and “WATCH IT GROW!” Unexamined beliefs will instinctively yield to the cultural norms that shape them. A simple human slant called “conformity”. Well, here’s the problem with that – our culture seems to approve almost anything that is simply human, under the precept of liberation, or progress.

In the midst of such powerful forces, our character, beliefs, and even self worth are made stronger as we discover ourselves independent of those forces, or to at least challenge the doctrines to which we so easily default. You might just end up in the same place, but they’re not YOUR beliefs and values until you diligently subject them to a jury of logic and reason. I don’t think anything can elevate one’s virtue more than the exercise of will and a freethinking mind, taking personal ownership of his/her beliefs and values. It’s not my place to tell anyone what those should be. My point is that, whatever those might be, they should be chosen with great care and due consideration, and should belong to YOU. The strength of our mental and moral fiber can only be weaved by the governance of our own minds and self-determined principles. It cannot be simply had by following the path of least resistance.

We boast of such individualism here in America. I see too little of it. I see a greater trend of laziness, and of yielding too quickly to status quo and surefire acceptance, squandering our freedom of choice in its own shameful apathy. As I see it, despite our youth, it’s time to grow up and become a people who take better accounting of its character, embracing the fundamental principles of discipline, self reliance, and personal responsibility. The stuff that made us great! As a nation, and as human beings, we are endowed with a remarkable freedom to live by values and principles of our own careful choosing. That’s quite a privilege. It’s the substance of our greatness, and should not be squandered on a life or freedom left unexamined. That, however, is the unfortunate trend of our country today. It’s resulted in inexcusable ignorance among two very necessary schools of thought with regards to our development as a nation. What we conserve, and what we change should be guided by disciplined thought and comprehensive, IMPARTIAL understanding of a complex truth.
I’ll conclude with a reference from another one of my favorite novels, Pride And Prejudice, which has similar parallels to our times. There’s a dangerous divide between two parties that must not only coexist, but flourish in their common love of our core values. Which side is Darcy and which is Elizabeth? Well, I’ll leave that to my reader. But it was their pride which kept them from overcoming their prejudices. We are a justly proud nation, but all too unaware of the slippery slope that can descend into sheer arrogance and a blind fall


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