Last week the Pakistani government denied access to YouTube for a short period because some of the content was deemed offensive. According to the BBC article, reports said the content included religious cartoons that already caused worldwide outrage. Once those questionable videos were removed, YouTube was back up in Pakistan. But regardless of one’s opinion, it brings up the largely debated issue of responsibility towards society versus the rights of the individual. Should we have the individual freedom to receive any content we desire or should a sacrifice be made for the larger good of society?
This issue reminds me of a quote my middle school teacher had on a poster that read something like, “Freedom is not about having the right to do what you want, but having the ability to do what is right.” I remember that quote having a big impression on me as a 7th grader. At home, I was always taught a culture of living as a community and that one’s responsibility to the family was more important than your individual desires. In eastern society, the family unit is not only the parents and children but includes the extended family. It is a society that lives as a community, not as a collection of individuals. Yet in a western school, I was taught by my peers that I was “free”. I remember kids saying, “If your parents ever make you do something, tell them you don’t have to because it’s a free country.”
My father recalls a story from my childhood: When I was 9 years old, I had a friend who lived across the street and we would often play together after school and on weekends. One evening my father was working in the garden while we were playing. He asked me to help him do something, and my friend told me the same thing, “It’s a free country; he can’t make you do it if you don’t want to.” I was caught in the middle of two cultures. He says at the time he was shocked at this girl’s response, and now I realize how disrespectful her comment was. When I asked him what I decided to do, he told me I chose not to help him and continued playing with her. Thinking of this story today, I feel ashamed. I had the freedom to choose what is right and I am ashamed I chose the right to do what I wanted.