We live where it’s sometimes hard to know what to call the time of year. Is it spring? Or are we better off saying mud time or pre-bug season? Our end of winter isn’t like the sunny Easter to the south, but then ours comes minus tornados, so I’m not complaining. Northland spring is a multi-word affair. I’d vote for “ice-out, frost on the ground, too soon to plant, fire at night, bumpy road, no bugs time of year.” It takes more than one word.

Another word we should not let stand alone as often as we do is freedom. Freedom is one of our great values and traditions, but to let it stand by itself is like leaving it naked in spring, when the poor thing faces gosh-knows-what in weather. The word to dress freedom is responsibility. We all know this. Freedom is not a stand-alone granting individual sovereignty. If it were, it would be called license. But freedom is not license because it carries with it individual and social and governmental/political responsibilities.

We have little trouble with responsibility in terms of road use, where we understand freedom accepts responsibility by following rules. Too fast, too slow, an unsafe load/vehicle, or erratic movement break the rules and are irresponsible uses of freedom to travel. Less obvious but (I think) similar are issues about affordable health care. Take the example of local versus out-of-state travel. Most travel is local, so should I be forced to pay a tax on fuel or licenses to support improvements in places I don’t go? If we could show a card that exempted us from gas or sales taxes that weren’t “local,” wouldn’t many of us eagerly do so? If you’re a betting person, you know how to wager that one. Many of us would opt out and exercise our freedom. But, if we’re not among those contributing to the system or roads, bridges, etc., should we expect it to be there when all of a sudden we need to drive to a distant place? With fewer participating, would the interstates be as good? Would you prefer toll roads? Our individual tax or cost would fall, but might we expect commercial trucking to pass along its new costs? One way or another, a system has to be paid for. Without someone paying for them to be there 24/7, we can’t expect a fire truck or the police to come when we call, nor could we expect medical facilities to appear out of the blue because we need them.

We have freedom, but also responsibility. Those who are pacifist are free to protest military and arms spending, but as they are included in defense they are not free to escape their portion of shared tax responsibility. It gets trickier, say when an organization with strong views on sex is seemingly forced to violate its own values. If the organization hires from the general public as well as from within its own belief group, then they’re (in my view) subject to the same rules as everyone else—which, by the way, do not force a single believer to use the programs objected to. A private group that hires some of its staff from the public and serves clients from the general public is no longer private and needs to accept the public side of its responsibility. Freedom can be on the complicated side. Say for example you own a beautiful forested hillside and want to harvest its trees. Your freedom to do so is not unlimited because the act will affect others. One person might say, “Stop, you’re ruining my view!” Another might say, “Stop until you’ve a plan to stop all the excess water from washing out the creek.” As citizens we are free to make whatever objections we wish, and as citizens we are also free and responsible to sort them out in terms of validity. Back when much of what we did in the northland took place in the middle of nowhere, acts didn’t have much visible or noticed impact. But if there are now houses at the bottom of the hill or your business is along the creek and will get flooded in heavy rains, you’ve a horse in the race. There was a lot more “freedom” in the old days. There was also a lot less responsibility. Logger barons flooded lakes and caused considerable damage with little to no responsibility. Times change. The yoke between freedom and responsibility is closer these days.

Another thing closer, even here in the northland where the most exotic thing on the annual calendar was St. Urho, are events around the world. I’ve decided there’s not much I can do about the world, about Afghanistan, China, etc., except watch, listen, and try to learn. One thing I can do is stay alert on the home scene to vigorously debate and support freedom in responsible application. I’d love to hang up a sign saying “Gone Fishing.” Some days I do that, but it’s darn important to stay engaged in responsible defense of your own freedom and that of others. To be perfectly blunt, I don’t care much to defend the rights of some, such as neo-Nazis, the KKK, Sovereignists, or Separatists. I trust my judgment and instincts of groups that are discriminatory, sexist, or exclusionary, that carry harsh political realities if allowed to do so. I don’t care if the cult is ten weeks old or has been around a thousand years. I don’t care if they wear white robes, black gowns, or dress in red. If the creed overall has a poor record on human rights, I think it bears careful scrutiny that they don’t use the freedom they enjoy as a method to deprive the same to others. Free and responsible doesn’t mean stupid or being a doormat. A group can say, “We are peaceful people who believe in bowel burial.” Yup, those are cannibals, and we’re on the menu.