February is the month we celebrate the lives of 2 of our greatest presidents. One helped lay the foundation for our democracy and its freedoms; the other held it together during our greatest crisis. I wrote the following column for the Feb. 14, 2005, issue of National Underwriter and have asked to have it reprinted this month (with slight revisions), for I believe it to be more germane today than ever. Freedom of any kind should not be taken for granted and we all have a stake in its preservation.
One of the central beliefs of our current president is that our own freedom is more secure when others live in an environment of liberty. Achieving such a goal is laudable, even though it may involve decades of patience and, at times, painful effort.
I believe that his is a goal that is very consistent with our history and ideals as a nation. Because despots do not surrender power easily or willingly, the spread of freedom through democratic processes will require unflagging will and effort. Skeptics allege that it cannot be done. However, it is worth noting that in 1776 there was only 1 democracy in the world; today there are 117 covering more than half the world’s population. Many of these new democracies have come into being because of our example and considerable sacrifice in lives and resources.
However, it is important to keep in mind that freedom itself is a complicated business. Tolstoy, in his writings, pointed out that freedom, or liberty, has many and varied components, and each variation has its own set of questions and values. Each element evokes subject matter and sciences in which freedom is perceived in a different context. History, ethics, social responsibility, jurisprudence and economics all impinge upon the idea of freedom, according to Tolstoy.
It seems to me that what Tolstoy was saying is that one could live where freedom abounds, yet still be enslaved by one of the components.
Perhaps the field of economics provides a useful example. A person may exist in an environment where free speech, the right to vote and to assemble, and share the benefits of a free press are guaranteed and yet not be free from economic burdens or distress.
And this is where I believe we can enter the picture and play an important part. For years the motto of the National Association of Life Underwriters (now the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors) was “Providers of Financial Independence.” Our most important mission, as the life and health insurance business, is the prevention of poverty. Often poverty is the result following the death or illness of a family member, particularly the breadwinner. Failure to save systematically often has produced poverty, or at least meager circumstance, in retirement. Economic want dilutes the benefits of freedom.
My wife, Gladys, often quotes an old Danish proverb, which, when translated, says, “When a person is well, he has many wishes, but when he is ill, he has but one wish.” Paraphrasing that proverb: “When one is well-fed, he has many wishes, but when one is hungry, he has but one wish.” Hunger is the primary byproduct of poverty and a challenge to freedom.
So, how do we do our part in spreading the idea and benefits of our particular component of the concept of freedom? I always have thought it was a happy coincidence that our nation was founded the same year (1776) that Adam Smith published his book “Wealth of Nations.” Smith’s thesis was that each person pursuing their own goals is led by an “invisible hand” to produce the best good for all. This later became known as “free enterprise.”
We are fortunate to be engaged in an enterprise that provides us the opportunity to help people maximize their economic freedom while achieving our own goals. To best accomplish this, I believe it is important to approach this endeavor with a sense of “mission” rather than just another way to make a buck. We can make a difference in people’s lives if we really want to do so. When one is driven by a sense of purpose in his work, long hours, rejection and other difficulties become more tolerable.
Three years ago we took an important step in spreading the gospel of life and health insurance when we created “Life Insurance Awareness Month.” This was a very worthwhile effort and should be expanded and strongly supported in coming years. Too many people are totally unaware that they are at risk for losing economic freedom.
The Million Dollar Round Table with its international outreach has the capability of spreading this sense of mission to other countries where economic freedom is even less prevalent.
To the extent that we help to alleviate people’s economic want, we create a multiplier effect. People who have achieved economic freedom are better positioned to help those who are in dire circumstances. Economic freedom trickles down, not up.
The president may not have us in mind when he advocates the spread of freedom as the road to peace. But the challenge is there nevertheless. We have the capability to “let freedom ring” in places where, absent our intervention, despair and poverty can enter.