The most hazardous part of my morning comes shortly after I leave my dorm. Groggy-eyed, I make my way across the piazza. When I near the crosswalk, I cautiously edge closer to the road, my head swiveling back and forth as I check for cars flying up out of nowhere.
Sometimes I am lucky and there are no cars around, but other times I set one foot into the supposed safety of those white painted lines and bam! Suddenly, a car comes zooming up the hill from my right, barreling toward my fragile position in the crosswalk, giving no indication of whether it will stop or just keep flying on.
I’m sure most, if not all, students here have experienced this, whether near the piazza, at the rosary circle or at some other dangerous locale around campus — if not as the student deliberating whether or not it is safe to cross, then perhaps as the student behind the wheel of the speeding car, or maybe even standing in said car’s trunk.
But these are not the only stop signs we ignore, are they?
No, there are many stop signs in our lives, and it seems that whenever we speed by one, we recognize it and hide our guilt in laughter. As an example, let’s look at drinking. Now, alcohol in itself is not bad, but too much of it is, so our bodies give us stop signs when we have almost reached our tolerance cap. Yet that in itself doesn’t make us stop.
We have a choice, and often people choose to ignore the stop sign and keep drinking. And then we all laugh about it later. “Oh, so-and-so got so drunk the other night.” We’ve all heard this in some form or fashion, and the polite response is to laugh along with the crowd.
But is that what we ought to do?
How about with underage drinking? The stop signs in this case aren’t physical, but legal. And it seems irksome to have to wait until you’re 21 to drink, just like it seems irksome to stop at the stop sign by the piazza. However, in both cases the stop sign is not just in place for your own sake but also for the sake of others.
The stop sign by the piazza is meant to protect the crosswalkers, and it also keeps the people in the car safe because it allows them to stop and make sure no other cars are trying to turn in front of them. Likewise, the law against underage drinking is for the sake of the person’s brain development and simultaneously for the sake of preventing him or her from drinking and then getting behind the wheel.
Here’s the thing: we are Americans, and we prioritize freedom. But I think sometimes we forget what freedom is for.
We like to think we are totally free, but the truth is, we’re not. We choose who or what we give our freedom up to by the decisions we make. In the alcohol example, when we near our limit, we either give up our freedom of continuing to drink, or we continue drinking and give up our freedom to the alcohol itself, which at that point would make us act in ways over which we don’t fully have control.
We make the choice. We choose to give up our freedom to morality or immorality. We have the freedom to choose, but either way, we are not as free as we think. Choosing immorality doesn’t make us free. If anything, it makes us less free because we choose the option that points away from our ultimate end, which is God.
My point is that we must apply morality to freedom. And this pertains not just to our own lives but to the world as well. It is easy to see our morals as something we should only apply to ourselves. In our attempt to not offend, we sacrifice our duty to call people on to be better.
Why do we think we need to tiptoe around everyone’s feelings? Doesn’t love mean wanting what’s best for the person we love? And sometimes that means calling your friend out even if he or she doesn’t like it. Even if this person is a Franciscan student. Even if this person is not.
Yes, we do have freedom, and we are so blessed to get to choose how to use it. We can choose to use our freedom to apply the morality we’ve learned from our theology, philosophy, etc. classes to our own lives. And we can choose to use our freedom to speak up when others are choosing some form of immorality, noticeable or minor, whether it’s underage drinking on campus or something else. That doesn’t mean we are limiting other people’s freedom, but we are calling them on to use their freedom well.
Stop signs exist for a reason, but you get to choose whether to abide by them. But for the sake of my nerves, please at least obey the stop sign by the piazza!