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Posted: July 4, 2010 12:30 a.m.

Freedom, responsibility — people have the power

My children, who are 8 and 10, are five weeks into their 12 weeks of summer vacation. With the advent of summer comes an increase in their freedom. They do not have to walk out of the house to go to school at 7:30 in the morning. This means that they can stay up after 8 p.m. and sleep past 6:30 a.m.

The days of the week are no longer structured by ballet, karate and chess. In fact, every day is different. They have been given more freedom to determine what to do, but have received additional responsibility. They are tracking their own summer reading and daily journal writing. When I am working toward meeting a deadline, they have to wait until I am done before I can answer questions or help with projects.

The overall lesson for my children this summer: The more responsible they are, the more freedom they will be given. I have a pretty good feeling that this will be my mantra for the next few years.

The opposite is also true: to retain their freedoms, they must be responsible.

Staying free involves responsibility.

This Sunday, we will celebrate the 234th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. While we declared ourselves free from British rule on that day, it took more than five additional years of fighting for us to win our freedom. On Oct. 19, 1781, our fighting ended with British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendering at Yorktown, Va.

We had our freedom; now we had to be responsible and govern.

Our founders had to decide how our country would work.

They argued for years, and finally signed the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. It officially became our guiding document on June 21, 1788, when it was ratified by New Hampshire.

According to a Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey released on June 23, 67 percent of likely voters believe that the country is heading down the wrong track. Only “28 percent of likely voters now say the country is heading in the right direction.” Our country is currently not on the right track.

While two-thirds of Americans may be discouraged by the current path our country is taking, they have the perfect opportunity this weekend to reflect on our Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” it states. It also notes that governments derive “their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

There is great importance in the self-evident truths. First, all men are created equal. That means that we all have equal value at birth. However, it does not say that all men, regardless of whether they work, shall end up equal. We are created equal and given rights by our Creator. We are a nation of believers in God. This provides us with optimism, a belief in the future, and solace and strength in times of crisis.

Our rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are not guaranteed health care, education, houses or even happiness. Our founders acknowledge that life and liberty came from God and that he gave us the ability to pursue happiness, not the guarantee it would be achieved

The Declaration of Independence states that we, the people, have the power, not the government. The government rules with the consent of the governed. However, it is our responsibility as citizens to remind those in government who their bosses are, who holds the power. If they do not remember, then it is our responsibility to replace them with those who understand that the people have the power.

If we are not responsible in carrying out our duties, we lose our freedom.

Our nation has an incredible history. We are a nation of risk-takers, hard workers, lovers of freedom and believers in God.

While we might be pessimistic about the current path our country is taking, we should be optimistic about our future and remind ourselves that our country has the ability to build on our past and create a bright future. We have the responsibility to remind our government that we, the people, have the power to elect a government that listens to us and responds to us.

As with many things, showing responsibility is the way to keep our freedom. Now, I have to go help my children build a fort.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman founded and is chairman of the board of the Learning Makes a Difference Foundation.

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