I was riding the subway earlier this week at rush hour when I heard raised voices.
“I’m a free man”, said Man 1 as the train started rolling. He had his back up against the train’s door and was glaring furiously at an older man standing just across from me. “You can’t tell me where to step, this isn’t your train,” he continued. “I’m a free man.”
Man 1 got off at the next stop, telling Man 2 that the train was now fully his. Baffled, Man 2 turned to his neighbor, who had witnessed the full interaction. According to the witness, both men had attempted to enter the train at one of the busiest subway stops. Man 1 had ensured he was one of the first to enter the train, but then stopped just inside the door, blocking others from entering. Man 2 told him to continue into the train, and Man 1 began in on his tirade of freedom.
These types of interactions aren’t rare, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this exact situation. Sardine a group of diverse people into a claustrophobia-inducing tube and you’re bound to have a bit of conflict.
But it did make me think about how we choose to use our freedom, and how very offended we get when we feel that others are telling us what to do.
Somehow, freedom has become synonymous with “being able to do what I want, when I want, no matter how it affects other people.” And the very thought of having to deviate from these wants, no matter in how slight of a manner, is somehow a complete infringement on our freedom.
Do we not have a responsibility to the people around us to minimize negative consequences that result from our actions? Is this really an assault on our freedom, or is it just respecting the freedom of others? Why should others be forced to deal with inconvenience that could easily be mitigated with a base level of grace?
For Man 1, it was clear that his freedom was the only freedom that mattered. Forget the fact that he was actively preventing a dozen other people from going about their day.
As a free society, we have a responsibility to protect not only our individual freedom, but also the freedom of our fellow citizens. And sometimes that means yielding in our wants, if only a little bit, with the expectation that others will do the same for us.