Big sodas live on in New York City.  Mayor Blumberg’s attempt to ban large sugary drinks in the city was overturned by a state court.  For now.  The Mayor promises to appeal.  The interesting thing about all this has been the range of reactions.  Some shrug and say, “Makes sense.”  Others are infuriated.

Big sugary drinks provide an important but amusing focus for the far greater issues at work:  balancing personal freedom with social responsibility and determining the role of government in regulating our personal lives, just to name two.  This is not a new debate.  Remember the turmoil over smoking in public places, wearing seat belts, and limiting the size of shampoo bottle we can carry onboard an airplane?

Now we are dealing with questions of requiring voter ID, immigration reform, health care reform, marriage equality, and a host of other things.

The furor over establishing common sense guidelines for the sale, purchase, and ownership of firearms and ammunition is another.  This one rises to the level of a constitutional right, and many scream that it therefore cannot be limited.  Of course it can be limited.  It should be and already has been.  Just as the freedom of speech and assembly and protection from unlawful search and seizure require refinement, definition, and appropriate boundaries for the sake of the common good, so does the right to bear arms.

All of these issues require our judicial system interpreting the Constitution in balancing personal freedom and public responsibility in an increasingly complex world.

These matters are complicated because none of these is an either/or argument.  Each is a both/and paradox.  Both sides of the argument appear to be contradictory, but each is true.  When we ignore either side of a paradox, we inevitably find ourselves at an impasse.

For example, each parent wants to nurture and protect their children from harm AND they want to promote experiences that will help them grow.  Sometimes those goals are at odds, because many of our most important growth come from experiences of disappointment, loss, and failure.  Protecting our children from life’s harshness AND allowing them to grow from life’s harshness is a parent’s job.  It’s not either/or.  It’s both/and, how much, and when.

Our country seems poised at that spot right now in the face of so many political and social issues.  We, including our legislators, are approaching issues such as gun regulation, marriage equality, the financial crisis, and even banning big sodas with an adolescent “either/or” mindset rather than an adult mind capable of dealing with complexity, contradiction, and paradox.

Like most people, I get worked up at those regulations that infringe on my freedom.  I don’t drink big sodas, so shrugging that one off is easy for me.  For others it’s a huge deal.  I roll my eyes at the limitations that don’t make sense, and I am infuriated at those that infringe on something important to me.  But none of those reactions includes the complexity of considering the greater good, and that must be equally important.

The preamble to the Constitution that guarantees our rights also includes “promote the general welfare.”   We are not a collection of individuals who share a national identity.  We are a community, a society, a nation of people who must always ask, “How will this affect others?”

We live in a world that our founding fathers could never have imagined.  We are more connected to small nations on the other side of globe than were contiguous states at the time our constitution was written.  To imagine we can claim our personal freedoms without seriously considering our social responsibility, national implications, even global responsibility, is irresponsible.