Freedom + Responsibility

by | Dec 7, 2020 | Commentary

Reflecting on 2020, several words come to mind. Gratitude. Humility. Sadness. Relief. Disappointment. Courage. Despair. And ultimately, Hope.

And as these many words swirl about in a year of social and economic turmoil, I find a common question links the otherwise disparate tensions around the pandemic, the economy, social justice, climate change, and the financial insecurity that has been exacerbated for so many and highlighted by this tumultuous year. 

As a country, how do we balance our quest for personal freedom with our shared responsibility for each other? 

Even as we strive to make material progress on access to jobs, housing, health care, education, creativity, and capital; even as we address the multigenerational challenges of climate change and government debt; before we can more strategically address the twin titans of the pandemic and its economic carnage, we need to more clearly define what we are trying to accomplish in the first place. The political gamesmanship around financial and health care responses to the pandemic reflect a country that is not sure what matters. 

Do we want a country in which we have a level playing field for all children to realize their full potential? Do we want an economy in which some people need to be permanently poor so that other people can realize a profit? Do we want every worthy innovator and entrepreneur to have access to the capital and networks they will need to realize their vision? Do we want every adult to have a realistic opportunity for a decent home, a safe and fairly-compensated job, and the ability to care for their children and other loved ones? What exactly does it mean to be endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness? 

This tension between personal liberty and social responsibility has been with us since the beginning of the American experiment. And for an entrepreneur like me, someone who dedicates his days to thinking about how to use capital to create a more generative world, I am averse to simplistic solutions or top-down government mandates. 

In my ideal world, people take personal responsibility for their own success AND take personal responsibility for ensuring that others have a fair opportunity to create their own successes. Thus, a person can build a business or career while striking at the formal and informal barriers that keep others from doing so. Such a mindset calls for nuance, thoughtful analysis, empathy, and a healthy regard for our fellow community members. And while the tone and tenor of our political parties and social media discourse paints a bleak picture, fortunately, there are many good people bringing those qualities to bear every day across every sector. 

As we move from 2020, we have an opportunity to make this year an inflection point for strengthening our social fabric and our economic vitality. We can lean into 2021 with an even stronger commitment and ability to solve our greatest social challenges. The opportunities for entrepreneurship, innovation, and wealth creation abound. And they can and should co-exist with the opportunities for enhancing access to good-quality jobs, education, health care, housing, and the other factors that make life into living. 

While many people are eager to see 2020 in the rear-view mirror, I look back with gratitude for my good colleagues at Syntrinsic who are striving to build a company worthy of our clients, to our clients for their tremendous impact on the world, and to the many people who knowingly or not, serve as inspirations of profoundly decent humanity. 

And as we head into 2021, I hope you will join me in keeping front and center the question of how we balance our quest for personal freedom with our shared responsibility for each other. Let’s continue to share our answers and experiments with each other, to learn from each other, and in the process, to build a society that reflects the best of what we can be.