The other day my youngest daughter and I had dinner together. Her older sister spent the night at a friend’s house. I decided I would treat us to a nice dinner and a trip to our favorite bookstore. We chose a place of her liking, sat down and ordered our drinks. After the waitress brought our order, my daughter started slurping on her chocolate milk and opened the conversation with:
"Mom, you have to look up the Constitution and the Bill of Rights online for me. My teacher wants us to read it over, because we are talking about it in class. You know tomorrow is Constitution Day!"
I became curious as to what she knew about it so far. We already talked about the Revolutionary War a little. So, I started questioning her. "Tell me, what does the Constitution represent? Did your teacher discuss this with you?"
"Yeah, it means that we have freedom," she answered.
"That’s how it was supposed to operate," I said. "But tell me, what does freedom mean to you?"
She paused briefly and concentrated on her answer. I could almost see her thoughts and then she promptly answered with "Well, it means that you are free to do and say what you want," and continued with an afterthought, "but not really; because you can’t just go out and kill someone either. That’s not right. It’s actually a bad thing to do so."
This was getting interesting. I tried to come up with a question to make her think more about that subject. "That’s true. What prevents people from going out and do such a terrible thing?" I wanted to see if she could arrive at the cornerstones that stop people from an unruly lifestyle.
"Hmmmm….well, it’s against the law to murder." She looked at me with her big curious eyes to see if I had more questions for her to answer. Then she remembered and said, "we also talked about the Bill of Rights; and there are 10 of them, and they start with the letter A."
"You mean amendments?" I asked.
"Yes, those." She agreed.
"What else has ten laws that tell us basic rules on what not to do?" I asked her knowing she should be able to answer that.
"You mean the Ten Commandments?" she asked.
"Yes, those, and how do you know that when you disobey one of those, you’ve done wrong?" I wanted to know.
She motioned to her chest and padded it lightly saying "I feel it here. It makes me feel bad."
I was moved by her honest display and said, "Remember the time you told me you had done your homework, but you didn’t? That night you came to my room after I already put you to bed and confessed that you lied to me. Now, what made you decide to get up and come tell me that you lied about your homework?"
She posed herself and with a clear conscience answered, "I couldn’t sleep and I really felt bad that I lied to you. I got up and wanted to tell you and it made me feel better."
"Right, you felt convicted by your decision to lie and recognized that it was wrong. So, these laws must already be known in people to know the difference between right and wrong. Do you think that lots of laws are good or just a few?" I asked her.
She didn’t have to think about answering that one. Quickly she warned, "I don’t think a lot of laws are very good. How can anyone remember all of them? It can get very confusing. But if you only have a few and I already know them, then that is a lot easier to remember."
I quickly wanted to lead her to the next step and said, "Now, you told me you felt better after you confessed that you lied to me, right? And then I told you that it would be your responsibility to tell your teacher. You had to find out if you could make up your homework. You had to handle this situation yourself. I also remember that you took care of this matter alone, and came home quite proudly telling me how well it all turned out. You were actually very pleased with yourself and accepted the results. Actually, you seemed quite happy."
I continued and said, "Do you see how staying within the boundaries of a few laws can keep everyone free? You saw that by your own free will how you chose a right way to correct your offense. Some nations have over 400 pages of laws in their constitutions, which you already said could be very confusing. And a lot of new laws that were added kind of take away the natural sense of conviction that you felt when you lied, because some people want to influence the behavior of others through force. They don’t realize the harm they really cause to each other. And what do a lot of these confusing laws then accomplish?" I asked her.
She had to think about it for a while and then said, "It takes away our freedom of free will."
"That’s correct, because it removes the accountability that all of us must know when we crossed a law. Just like you had to be brave and courageous to fess up to your mistake, so everyone else has to be given that opportunity to see his wrong ways, because one really doesn’t get rewarded with a lot of happiness if one continues to do wrong. People do get punished when they lie, steal and murder." I had to pause here for a second. I made a mental note that too many people actually get away with that on the behalf of those who brought legal claim that people’s lack of good upbringing excuses them from justice. Not only that, many people honestly believe their government stands above these laws. Their sense of entitlement creates such a heavy burden for a nation whose government is expected to please everyone equally. It is an impossible task even for a private individual to uphold. I personally don’t engage in building life-line relationships with dishonest people.
I caught my train of thought again and continued, "The Constitution represents — or is supposed to protect — the supreme laws of the land and just outlines under what kind government these basic laws are to be protected. See, no government can really create or destroy these laws. It can only protect it. So very smart and wise people came together and agreed upon a framework on how to establish a government that is to protect it through checks and balances that keeps it from getting into everyone’s private business."
My daughter was chewing on her last chicken strip as we came to the end of our conversation. I, too, thought of all the positive rights that have cluttered up the law books in past 60 years. They have not really benefited the nation. All I could see was a greater rift between man and woman and more confusion. Relationships in themselves have become complicated, since people no longer trust each other, prefer to blame others rather than look at their own actions. In the end people are wrapped in cobwebs. Everyone is searching for a way out through their government who creates the cobweb in the first place by their own votes. And then they wonder why the big, bad spider is coming for its prey.
I still had my daughter’s attention but left it at that. I decided that she should be left with the idea that regardless how abused this document has become; its original intention was to erect it on a fundamental truth that brought prosperity to a new nation. Children should first know what works well and what is right, rather than be introduced to all the wrongs of life. She is beginning to see reality as she grows into her own life. I certainly won’t push it on her.
"You’re a pretty smart girl," I told her. "I think we should talk about that again next week when you go over it in school."
"Yeah, now can we go to the bookstore and look for a poetry book?" she smiled.
Later that night I looked up the US Constitution online. Again I was kind of overcome with the way history has turned course that molded its government into such a complicated centralized institution in which people find their identity and personal protection. And then I looked at the first paragraph that starts with "We the People of the United States" and it showed again that it is people themselves who neglect it. They have become immune to what children sense naturally when convicted of wrongs — remorse of their action, accountability for their deeds, and responsibility to handle life to the best of their abilities, and, most of all, a trust in God’s provision to protect life. The process teaches how to trust in justice and how to receive mercy. Every family has their own private set of rules, but none can escape the overall obligation to respect a moral law that serves the tranquility of the general welfare of family and community. It’s the cornerstone of a free society.
I turned off my computer and looked at my daughter, who slept on my bed. I kissed her cheeks and hugged her softly. I thought how privileged we both have been tonight by learning from each other. For now, we still had the freedom of privacy to discuss its very topic.
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.