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08/15/2005 Archived Entry: "Living with one's convictions"

ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS FOR FREEDOM LOVERS is the daily struggle to live in integrity with one's own convictions -- or to live with one's self while daily violating those convictions.

The struggle has both big aspects ("Do I pay my taxes and fund the slaughter in Iraq or do I stop paying and risk prison and financial ruin?") and smaller annoying ones ("Do I fill out that stupid paperwork or just build my garage without a government permit?" "Do I give my social security number to get a fishing license?"). Even the supposedly small decisions often determine whether we can earn a living or live in peace with our community. And such dilemmas are constant. Ceaseless.

It's an irony that some of the world's most thoughtful and decent people are precisely the ones who are pressured, day after day, to surrender their conscience. What kind of society survives once it becomes a liability to have personal principles? Once individual moral choices become not only irrelevant but undesirable? Scary.

But in all times, there are shining beacons who show us that, against all pressures and societal assumptions, people can still make right choices and shine. I found a couple such examples while browsing around Dave Gross's Picket Line blog this weekend.

First is San Francisco attorney J. Tony Serra. He's going to prison for non-payment of income taxes. but what a life he has lived, being "Always a Man of His Convictions." Sure, he has "lost" (several times) and has now even agreed to pay up a 40-year tax deficit. But what verve and spirit the man has! Now, there's a man who lives his life in full. A loser and an oddball? Maybe.

But I'll bet Serra is a happier man than most who insist they "must" constantly compromise to survive in this world. I'll bet that on the day he dies he'll be able to say (as Thoreau did) that he doesn't need to make his peace with God (or with himself) because "I did not know we had ever quarrelled."

The second item from the Picket Line concerns that most thorny of historic American hypocrisies, slavery. Influential men like the great Jefferson claimed to deplore slavery -- but to be unable to free their own (or any other) slaves. But at the same time (and in one instance, against Jefferson's adament advice), prosperous Virginians bearing the aristocratic names of Carter and Randolph did free their slaves, driven by conscience.

So why could Carter do the right thing while Jefferson could not -- even when he fully recognized where the moral course lay? And what about us, today? In choosing what is "practical" and "pragmatic" are we not also simply delaying and defeating the freedom that could be ours if we simply ... took it?

Posted by Claire @ 09:42 AM CST

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