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I celebrated Constitution Day by volunteering in an 8th grade classroom teaching students about the Constitution. In crafting my lesson, my thoughts turned to the recent attacks on U.S. Embassies and Consulates in Egypt and Libya and the slaying of our ambassador.
Some have explained that these attacks were caused because Islamists in other nations are upset by an anti-Mohammed video that was produced in the U.S. In these Islamic nations it is common that videos must be screened by the government before release. Therefore, it can be difficult for some people to understand why the U.S. government allowed such a vile and hateful video to be produced. Even more, the people of these nations cannot understand that, to the contrary, our Constitution specifically forbids the U.S. government from interfering in any way with speech, even vile and hateful videos like this.
So why do Americans feel that our nation, our Constitution, and our system of doing things is better than other nations' when our Constitution specifically allows ugly things like this? And if our system is better, why do other nations not adopt governments that provide as much freedom as ours?
Perhaps some in those other nations are afraid of freedom. Imagine living under a system where the dictator or the government keeps everyone in line and makes sure everyone plays nice. I have heard an analogy from a Chinese person that compares their government to a symphony — in Chinese culture, harmony among people is highly valued. "A symphony orchestra must have a conductor; if every instrument played what it wanted there would be only discord."
Imagine stepping out of that controlled, "harmonious" system into an American-style system where government does not conduct but allows people to say and do almost anything? It must seem like stepping into chaos. But the United States is not in chaos. Generally speaking, Americans get along well with each other. This is in spite of no one looking over us forcing us to be nice.
Ugly videos insulting others' religion are the exception in America, not the rule. Certainly we have bad guys that murder and steal, like everyone else, and we have police for that. But generally speaking, Americans are good. Because we have freedom, no one else is forcing us to act right. And yet, largely, we do act right.
Perhaps this is why the American system is better. Because Americans have freedom, Americans must self-regulate; we must choose for ourselves to be good. We are good not because the government is watching and threatening to keep us in line. We are good because as Americans, we know that we are responsible for what we do with our freedom, and we know that things just work better when we choose to play nice.
On the other hand, people in other nations who fear freedom are correct: If tomorrow all Americans woke up and decided that we were tired of being good, then chaos would rule. Our Constitution, our government, is not equipped to handle a nation of bad people.
I've heard it said that "America is great because Americans are good." I agree with that. But can other nations also learn to be good if they embraced constitutional freedoms that also stripped away government regulation of good behavior? Could freedom lead them to harmony? Or just to chaos, as they fear? Until those questions are answered, may America always be a place where people have freedom to choose, and where they choose to be good, and may we always welcome all who choose to be good and want to join us.
Ryan Stones is a Taylorsville resident.