“The Fourth Freedom is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The final painting in Norman Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms series” is the Freedom from Fear, painted while Europe was at war. In this painting, Rockwell depicts parents tucking their children into bed, a peaceful scene, yet set against the newspaper headline blaring the German bombing blitz of England in 1940-1941. Things are not right in the world and Rockwell conveyed the idea that parents should be able to put their children to bed at night knowing they will be safe. I remember doing that myself, listening to the soft breathing of my daughters, tucking the covers around them, and feeling comfort in the fact that I was keeping my children safe and secure.
In his speech, “The Four Freedoms,” Roosevelt implies that in order to enjoy these freedoms, especially the freedom from fear, we as a nation, must go to war to protect the rights of not only our citizens, but also the citizens of the world. Roosevelt interpreted the Freedom from Fear to include the worldwide reduction of armaments in addition to building a means for collective security reiterated in The United Nations Charter.
This precursor to our involvement in World War II was articulated in the Atlantic Charter, signed by Churchill and Roosevelt in August 1941.
So many things have changed since that time. Our country has been attacked on our own soil and living in fear of terrorism has become the new norm. It seems that, today, we have so many more fears to confront, both close to home and from far away. It is easy to become overwhelmed with worry and anxiety.
As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to enable our children to find the freedom from fear in their lives as best we can by listening to them and letting them know they’re heard. Though it takes time, and often interrupts our routine, to stop and sit with a child is time well spent.
As parents, we can’t always be there to protect our children, but we can teach them to be cautious, to be aware, to feel safe coming to us and to other adults who will believe them. We can encourage them to let go of shame and to replace it with a determination to find their voice and express the injustices they see and, especially, to find the courage to tell their stories in the moment, or years later, when they are ready and able to do so.
Meanwhile, we can elect leaders who are dedicated to establishing a safe environment that will encompass Roosevelt’s hopes for the future: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear.
Perhaps that future is now.