If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free, angels alone that soar above enjoy such liberty.
- Richard Lovelace, 1618-1658
I sit here on a hot summer day contemplating a letter I just received from my cousin. She is currently in the Peace Corps stationed in Turkmenistan. In the letter she describes the plight of young women who are bartered into marriage. After marriage, brides move into their husband's home and serve the husband's family, many in slave-like conditions. I will spare you the details of the letter, but seeing as we recently celebrated July 4th, we can all be thankful for the multitude of freedoms we have as Americans.
But freedom does come at a price. Our freedom to do as we please is tempered with the understanding that we must not tread upon the freedom of others. It used to be said, "Do unto others what you would have others do unto you." But then came those who unabashedly asserted that they would not care if someone did unto them. Now we must go beyond the Golden Rule and do unto others as our society would have us do unto them.
As a natural progression, it is easy to see how etiquette and the law are related. Etiquette sets down the guidelines for which behaviors are acceptable under what situations. When citizens overstep the bounds of etiquette, the law is called upon to enforce the behavioral guidelines. For example, etiquette states that you should not take things that are not yours. The law enforces this guideline with penalties for those who steal.
Just as etiquette evolves to keep pace with the times, so to does the law. The recent number of cellular telephone laws (while driving and while in the theatre) illustrates this relationship. The concept of freedom, etiquette and law being conjoined is not new. In fact, George Washington was so interested in standards of behavior that he documented his favorites based upon the popular etiquette books of his time. Some of our first president's musings are a bit out of date, but many do hold true today.
While my cousin is currently in a country where being a bride means a life of hard labor, I recently returned from a trip to see a completely different kind of bride. My husband's brother married a simply wonderful young woman last week. They chose each other without being brokered by their families. The groom chose to live near the bride's family, a few states away from where he was raised. The bride chose to take on my brother-in-law's religion since they come from different backgrounds. Together, they are choosing to treat each other as equals and to face the world together. It was wonderful to help them celebrate.
And I am thankful I live in a country that allows me to do so.