“America should erect a Statue of Responsibility in San Francisco Bay
to counterbalance the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.”
-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who spent three years in four different concentration camps during World War II, knew a little something about personal liberty and responsibility. No one needed to teach him how precious liberty is; he experienced its near total absence in the camps. Yet he never forgot that freedom or liberty carries with it the companion value of responsibility. An existentialist by both training and personal experience, he knew that what matters is not so much freedom from, but freedom to . . . freedom to act responsibly, in every moment of life.
We forget that responsibility part from time to time. We Americans are an affluent people, which provides us the liberty to shower our children with material possessions and opportunities unimagined in previous generations. Yet we forget the responsibility we have to ensure buy-in from our children through their sharing in the cost, taking care of the possessions, paying for maintenance and replacement, etc. Instead we yell at our children for breaking their toys and gadgets, then go out and buy new ones for them.
We live in a country with a Constitution that defends our liberty to say what we want without fear of legal recrimination, yet we forget the responsibility we have to speak with sensitivity, civility, and respect, even sometimes raising our children in households poisoned by ethnic, racial, and religious slurs and profanities.
We enjoy unprecedented freedom of press and media, yet we forget the responsibility of choosing quality programing and entertainment for ourselves and our children, allowing for the polluting of our minds and theirs with hate-filled talk shows, violent and sexually disrespectful images, and “heroes” in the form of tormented warriors-turned-killing machines and outlandishly overpaid athletes and media stars.
Frankl had it right: We need to erect that Statue of Responsibility. But there’s no need to place it in San Francisco Bay. Instead, let’s place it firmly in our consciences, where we can use it to balance the many liberties we enjoy.