There is a saying: With great power comes great responsibility.
A Humanist understands this to be true.
As a believer in free will and human agency, I understand that while I can act however I want, my actions have consequences.
By choosing my actions I am, to a certain extent, choosing my consequences.
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I also understand it isn't just consequences to me that matter. My actions affect other people as well.
For instance, if I were to take a job in England, that would affect my husband and my son and our friends and extended family.
My freedom of action is necessarily constrained by my responsibility to the people around me.
This is why for Humanists, we almost never discuss the concept of freedom unless we are also discussing the responsibility that comes with that freedom. With rights comes responsibility to not abuse those rights by abusing others.
Instead of thinking of how our responsibilities to others constrain us, Humanists prefer to think of the need to balance self and others as a form of embedded autonomy.
I am autonomous but I am also part of a society.
Humans are social animals. We do not thrive unless we are part of a group.
Belonging gives us a sense of security. The drive to belong is so strong we feel ostracism as physical pain.
Our desire to fit in is so basic to our nature it is astonishingly easy to convince people two plus two equals five if enough members of a group declare it to be so.
We Humanists are reality-based problem solvers.
We may not it like that our drive to belong can cause us to deny reality, but by accepting our basic nature is flawed, we can do a better job of protecting ourselves from the hazards or group think and propaganda directed at us in the form of advertising and political messaging.
While we are all free to think and do what we think is best not everything we think is true and not everything we do is good.
The only way to tell the difference is to learn how to think critically and scientifically so that you can tell who is telling the truth.
As Thomas Jefferson said in a letter to William Roscoe, Dec. 27, 1820: "This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."
We humans are animals simultaneously driven by our desire for autonomy (freedom) and our desire to belong (responsibility to others).
Our task is not to choose one extreme or the other, but rather to be free and responsible at the same time.
Jennifer Hancock, founder of Humanist Learning Systems, is the author of several books about Humanism. Learn more at humanistlearning.com.