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Freedom isn’t free

By Heather Hyatt Packer • Guest Columnist | There’s a lot of discussion about freedom, rights and patriotism when discussing coronavirus restrictions. Americans today have no idea what it means to make sacrifices for the greater good nor do they seem interested. We’re in the throes of a national crisis. Coronavirus is very real. Many in our community have lost their lives or face long-term health problems. Yet a large number of residents are still in denial, though I’m not sure it’s denial. It’s defiance.

Eighty years ago our grandparents and great-grandparents were asked to make sacrifices. During World War II, Americans were asked to limit consumption of everything from gasoline to sugar to toothpaste. Citizens were given ration books and waited in long lines to get a weekly allotted half pound of sugar. Encouraged to eat leftovers due to food shortages, they were told to “lick their plates clean.” They were asked to take fewer showers. Dress warmly so they were not burning too much heating fuel in the winter. People were thrown off trains and planes to make room for servicemembers — and guess what? No one complained. Instead, ingenuity thrived. People rallied together for something bigger than themselves. And now we romanticize that era, calling those folks the “golden generation,” when America was at her best! 

And now we’re people being asked to wear a mask, wash their hands, recognize a reasonable social distance and stop eating out in restaurants. Stay home. Don’t gather in large crowds. Yet residents of our own county are showing up unmasked at government meetings essentially throwing temper tantrums like toddlers. Is this patriotic? No. Frankly, it’s an embarrassment. Real “patriots” have values like honor, integrity and commitment. Always. Patriotism isn’t slapping a sticker on your car, being antagonistic and in the end acting like a petulant child. 

Every time I walk into a grocery store, I spot a significant number of unmasked people who make challenging eye contact as if they’re daring someone to confront them. They have no sense of sacrifice, donation or altruism. They lack the willingness to put someone other than themselves first. In times of crisis, many tend to increase self-centered acts such as hoarding toilet paper. We’ve witnessed it time and time again since last March.

As the proverb reminds us, pride comes before the fall. Whether it’s right or wrong, I’m leaning towards the latter, that Americans view themselves as masters of their own fate which is deeply rooted in “manifest destiny.” On video, I can hear a woman in the audience of a Waynesville town meeting screaming, “God doesn’t want me to wear a mask.” I guess she received a memo that missed the rest of us. 

The nature of America’s founding was a negative act of bond breaking. It reflects our character as a people and forms the way we associate freedom with defiance. What we see as sacrificing sovereignty, other nations see as strengthening or unifying. A certain group of Americans loathe anyone they see as entitled, spoiled or selfish yet have zero self-recognition that their behavior is often just that. A request to do anything becomes a point of attack. There’s no room for compromise with people who are so wrapped up in themselves that they exercise zero concern for family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or strangers because it impedes on their fantastical definition of being “American.” Freedom comes with responsibility. A symptom of low emotional intelligence is being self-absorbed. Practicing care and concern for others is not an act of weakness. It is noble. 

This indulgent, defiant behavior is serving no purpose. There’s a difference between “obedience” and “defiance.” No one is asking you to submit to an unreasonable list of demands. It is natural to some extent to put yourself first, but at some point self-care becomes a nasty selfishness. There is nothing in the Constitution that mentions you are to have every single thing you ever want. To even think that way is completely unrealistic. 

In the words of The Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want,” again, a lesson many toddlers are taught. A truly troubling feeling is to know our health and well-being hinge on a group of capricious conspiracy theorists who buy into illusory truths. It is only through mutual concessions that America will defeat coronavirus. Compromise is not only necessary, but it is our means of survival. If not, our population will be decimated. This is a test of character. A test that, by and large, we’re failing. 

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