Americans' short-sighted focus on 'personal liberty' ended up limiting another type of freedom

As the U.S. crosses the 300,000 COVID-19 deaths milestone, let's take a step back and look at what got us here.

But first, let's tip our hat to those who aren't where we are—to the countries that took swift, decisive action, got the population on the same page about what needed to be done, and kicked pandemic ass. The countries that not only have a tiny fraction of our death toll, but who also have been able to resume normal life in all its glory.

While mandatory quarantines for travelers and contact tracing systems for any cases that slip through the cracks are still in place, countries like Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Thailand, and Taiwan are experiencing a level of collective and individual freedom that America—and much of Europe—simply does not have right now. People are attending concerts, plays, sporting events, weddings, etc. without masks or social distancing. People can hug one another without worrying about killing someone. It's literally like a whole other world.

Sure, some of those countries are islands and they all have smaller populations than we do. But the U.S. is bordered by just two countries. Thailand borders four and Vietnam borders three, including China—and our not controlling the coronavirus spread has nothing to do with people crossing our physical borders. And as far as population goes, our large size accounts for raw numbers, but not deaths proportional to population.

Check out the deaths per million statistics among these countries:

Australia: 35

New Zealand: 5

Vietnam: 0.4

Thailand: 0.9

Taiwan: 0.3

United States: 924

We currently have the 12th highest deaths-per-million rate in the world. So much winning, we're sick of winning, right?

It's been said a million times that it didn't have to be this way, and it didn't. But while our government has been blamed for its abysmal response to the pandemic—and while those criticisms are legitimate—that's not the whole problem. It's nice to think that if we had a president that listened to public health officials and provided coherent guidance, we'd be in better shape, and we probably would be to some degree. But a big part of the problem is the American people ourselves.

I love us, but a huge key to controlling a pandemic is getting a population on the same page and getting people to make personal sacrifices for the greater good. It requires a collective commitment, and I'm just not convinced the U.S. is capable of that without a serious rethinking of what our core national value actually means.


The world knows—because we really, really like to shout it from the rooftops—that the U.S. is all about freedom. It's what we were founded on, what we take pride in, and what we cling to as our highest ideal. And we most often define freedom in terms of personal liberty—the right to live our lives the way we choose.

But in a pandemic, personal liberty can be problematic. I know that's hard for some Americans to hear, but it's true. If we all just do whatever we please, we end up right where we are—with an out of control virus killing a 9/11's worth of Americans every day, ten months in, and the ongoing economic hardship that goes along with a half-assed, incohesive attempt to maybe save businesses or maybe save lives. We've ended up with the worst of both worlds—mass death and economic demise—largely due to Americans' insistence upon personal freedom to the deadly and devastating exclusion of everything else.

Let's be clear about the fact that the federal government has not established any mandates or restrictions that violate American freedoms during the pandemic. Decisions about mitigation measures have been left to the states, which is both good and bad. The United States is huge, and logistically it makes more sense for local conditions to guide local responses. However, our borders between counties and states are imaginary lines with no checkpoints or restrictions for travel, which makes for a lot of holes in our collective pandemic control.

I'm not saying that the government should go all willy-nilly with our freedoms; I'm saying that Americans are short-sighted in our vision of what freedom actually means. Too many Americans have exercised their personal liberty in a way that limits our collective freedom (because it leads to out-of-control viral spread) and also ends up limiting personal liberty anyway (because out-of-control viral spread means having to take measures to keep our healthcare system from getting overwhelmed).

I know some people say "collective freedom" isn't a thing, please see the difference between daily life in the U.S. and daily life in Australia right now. Our Aussie friends are living a far freer life than we are, both individually and collectively, because they chose to sacrifice individually so that the whole society could be free from the virus. That's what collective freedom looks like, and they didn't succumb to tyranny to get it. That could have been us, if we stopped seeing everything that isn't "go ahead and do whatever you want" as tyranny.

In a viral pandemic like this one, doing whatever we want is inconducive to true freedom. We're watching this play out in states that were reticent to implement restrictions until now, as hospitals spill over and mandates become necessary for public safety. People exercising their personal freedoms with no regard for public health guidelines results in out-of-control viral spread, which results in social and economic devastation as huge numbers of people get sick and die.

Exercising personal liberty without personal responsibility in a viral pandemic leads to limited freedom for longer, with a lot more pain and suffering, than using our liberty to do what needs to be done to prevent that.

I can already see people bringing up Benjamin Franklin's quote—"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Some version of it comes up any time the government tries to enact anything Americans view as limiting their freedoms, but there are a couple of problems with bringing it up now. Franklin, as it turns out, was specifically talking about a dispute over taxes to fund securing the frontier, not public health in a pandemic. (And despite what people might assume, his quote was actually pro-taxation.) While that quote pushes all the right "my personal freedom" buttons, I'm quite sure that Ben Franklin would be losing his mind over Americans rejecting public health guidelines in the name of "I do what I want" if he were here today.

As an American, I appreciate our nation's commitment to personal liberty. I really do. But we seem to have forgotten that the founding premise of our republic wasn't just an inalienable right to liberty, but to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." When exercising personal liberty costs another American their life, then our national values are in conflict. "Give me liberty or give me death" is great when we're not in a viral pandemic, but "Give me liberty and I will give you death" is what we're currently experiencing.

Freedom can't be merely seen as an end, but as a means. In the next pandemic, I hope my fellow Americans will use their personal liberty to choose do what needs to be done to help us reach collective and individual freedom, rather than cutting off our nose to spite our face by insisting on a puerile version of freedom that only leads to all of us losing both.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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