Project 21 New Visions


R. Dozier Gray

Freedom to Fail

by R. Dozier Gray (bio)

As an individual, I enjoy my freedom.

As a veteran of our armed forces, I respect the price of freedom and the costs that are associated with keeping our people free.

I also understand and appreciate the limitations on freedom that are sometimes associated with the maintenance of a just and equitable society.

As a society, we must strike a balance so that we can all enjoy our God-given freedom in harmony.  At the same time, the government we charge with maintaining this collective balance must be similarly tempered.

It is a respect for this balance, and my feelings about the government's limited role in it, that makes me the conservative that I am today.  I am proud to share these feelings with such legendary black Americans as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.

To me, freedom - at its core - is the ability for people to act of their own volition and subsequently reaping the rewards or suffering the consequences of their actions. People should have the freedom to act or speak and prosper, but also the freedom to act or speak and fail.

A person's free will is usually naturally restricted by their individual morality. The golden rule - treating people as you would like to be treated - often comes into play, leading people to adjust their ability to prosper greatly so that others may prosper some.

That is a process of our individual morality and our individual free will.

Through guiding documents such as our Constitution and the regular elections of representatives, we also bestow upon our government the power to regulate certain aspects of free will so that even more who would not otherwise prosper might be able to advance in one form or another.

In this manner, government acts as an enforcer of society's collective morality.

But there can be a glaring difference in how individuals restrict their own freedom for a moral purpose and government restricting individuals' freedom for purportedly the same moral purpose.  The former is an extension of freedom, while the other can be freedom turned on its head if misapplied.

All too often these days, government goes too far in covering up for bad decisions.  Take, for example, how the government - and, by extension, the rest of the taxpaying public - is now covering for people who callously spent beyond their means on items such as luxury houses and cars.

When government tries to make up for someone's faulty use of their freedom, the freedom of all is put at risk.  No good can come from essentially rewarding bad behavior with a bailout.

We can talk about "safety nets" all day long. I don't dispute the validity of the concept. It strikes a pleasant chord with my own sense of morality.  I fear, however, that too much emphasis is placed on getting people into the net rather than their getting out of the net once they are in it.

If a man is unable to stand, I will help him stand. If he is able, but not willing... well, the ground can be a cold, hard place.

God gave everyone free will. The idea is that people can choose Him or not. One can choose all manner of other things as well. In each case, they must own it.

Own and relish in wise and profitable choices. But also own and freely languish in the misery of false steps.

My grandfather had a funny way of oversimplifying things. He used to tell his grandchildren time and time again, "Never make a mistake. Mistakes are costly."  My Papa and the many people he influenced, including me, would be the first to help someone in the way that would have the most enduring effect.

Yet those in need must know that when help comes, it comes on the wings of that Samaritan's free will to assist.

Be blessed.

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R. Dozier Gray is a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network.  His Twitter handle is rdoziergray.  This commentary appeared in a longer format in the March/April issue of Freedom's Journal Magazine.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.

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