The May 23rd edition of the Wall Street Journal held a remarkable statement by Cuban poet and human-rights activist Armando Valladares when accepting the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Canterbury Medal in New York recently.
He was of course speaking mainly to the brutal political oppression of the Castro regimen and on the dangers of creeping tyranny, but on a deeper level too about the dangers of how a mind can become polluted and actually imprison itself.
Says Mr. Valladres,
“When I was 23 years old I did a very small thing. I refused to say a few words, “I’m with Fidel.” First I refused the sign on my desk that said as much, and after years of torture and watching so many fellow fighters die, either in body or in spirit, I persisted in my refusal to say the few words the regime demanded of me.
My story is proof that a seemingly small act of defiance can mean everything to the enemies of freedom. They did not keep me in jail for 22 years because my refusal to say three words meant nothing. They kept me there that long because it meant everything.
For me to say those words would have been spiritual suicide. And though my body was in prison and abused, my soul was free and flourished. My jailers took everything from me, but they could not hijack my conscience.
Even when we have nothing, each person and only that person possesses the keys to his or her own conscience, his or her own sacred castle. In that respect, each of us, though we may not have an earthly castle or even a house, each of us is richer than a king or queen.
For many of you, particularly the young people, it may seem I come from another time and from a remote place. Young friends, you may not be taken away at gunpoint, as I was for staying true to my conscience, but there are many other ways to take you away and to imprison your body and your mind. There are many ways you can be silenced.
I warn you: Just as there is a short distance between the U.S. and Cuba, there is a very short distance between a democracy and a dictatorship where the government gets to decide what we believe and what we do. And sometimes this is not done at gunpoint but instead it is done one piece of paper at a time, one seemingly meaningless rule at a time, one silencing at a time. Beware young friends. Never compromise. Never allow the government—or anyone else—to tell you what you can or cannot believe or what you can and cannot say or what your conscience tells you to have to do.”
Such profound words that only a dissident used to abuse could utter. I particularly liked what he says about each of us being richer than a king or queen even when we have nothing.
Since the beginning, man has always tried to control one another. Some use physical force, some the power of government and others words that bring shame and fear. The most devastatingly effective ones manipulate people in to imprisoning themselves by convincing them they are not worthy of living in freedom; that they were born a victim and will always be one. The “victim” then misses completely the awesome gift of life they have and their ability to forge and shape it as they please.
It’s easy to forget the freedoms we have in America today. We can pretty much do or say what we want but there are those that would have us forget this. They want us to believe we are being held back by some societal oppressor; an “ism” that forever prevents us from reaching our full potential. With this view, everyone and everything becomes an oppressor, something to be offended by and fight against.
This is the worst type of bondage because it causes individuals to lose their ability to honestly look themselves and change where needed. Ironically this only creates more victims while reducing liberty for all of us, as the government happily steps in as savior and increases its fat footprint over our lives.
Freedom is like the air that surrounds us; lifesaving but not noticeable until it’s taken away. Pay attention America, before it’s too late.