How to become a leader

New WSJ Column / In support of women’s freedom

Hello from Shanghai!  I have been enjoying a wonderful few weeks here in China, reveling in time together with old friends and making new friends as well.  My time here reminds me of the fact that “it’s all about relationships.”  Even for a writer like me – especially for a writer like me – who spends days at a time alone in front of my computer – it’s my relation

Beautiful women - and men! - at Renmin University at my speech there

ships with others that that make my life as full as it is.  And it’s been especially fun that my dear husband Dave has come out to join me for a few days as well!

My time here has been busy with speeches, media interviews, and fashion shoots. Throughout, my focus has been on encouraging women to be more happy and more free, and suggesting some strategies on how to do so.  A highlight of my trip was the Beijing sisterhood event hosted by P&G’s Whisper feminine-care brand.  I find it wonderful and amazing that a large company like P&G is so focused on encouraging women to more bravely grab hold of the freedom to make their own life choices.  And so I am very happy to be partnering with them on this important work.

For photos of my trip here thus far, click here.

But not all my time here has been happy.  With everyone, I’ve been grieving over the latest mass-shooting incident in America.  These weeks, I’ve been so missing my little girls back home in Los Angeles, and it’s been hard not to be able to hug them close each time I turn on the news and see all those images of grief.

My editors at the Wall Street Journal China asked me to try to explain WHY it is that Americans so cherish their guns.  It’s hard to make sense of something so senseless, but the answer unfortunately goes to the core of how America was founded, and to the core of the self-concept of many of my fellow Americans.

Below is the full text of this column, republished with permission of the Wall Street Journal.

*

Freedom and America’s gun culture

The world has been united in grief over the over America’s latest mass shooting, but for those of us who are parents, the incident presents a special kind of terror.

That’s because being a parent means living with your heart outside of your body. And if your heart is suddenly ripped away, it’s hard to imagine how life could go on.

My own kids now are 3.5 and 2. That means that for over four years since I first was pregnant with #1, my husband and I have been focused on keeping our kids alive and safe.

We always remind them to hold hands with an adult when crossing the street. We always hold them close when entering crowded places. Meimei still explores the world by popping every shiny new object into her mouth, and that keeps us in a constant state of constant worry.

Because, like all parents, we just want to know our kids are safe. We just want them to be OK.

Americans and their freedom to own guns

It’s impossible to fully comprehend the overpowering grief of all those families who now will pass Christmas without their little angels.

All those angels are gone forever because one woman exercised her American freedom to own guns.

I myself am a lover of freedom. In fact, here in China, I have a best-selling book which encourages women to be free. All my speeches, all my media interviews, and 90% of my personal conversations here are about how we as women can be more free.

The gruesome legacy of gun freedom

But sometimes, as in the case with guns, exercising your freedom means hurting or even killing other people, and that’s when we need to take a very close look at the freedoms we demand.

Shocking as the Connecticut incident was, last week’s deaths comprise less than 1% of the gun deaths in America each year. Each year in America, 30,000 people die as a result of gun violence.

Now you’re a smart, worldly person. You read the Wall Street Journal. Right now, you may be wondering, given all the gun deaths each year, why guns are legal in America. Perhaps because of the wishes of a small but extremely powerful faction?

To the contrary, the American public is evenly divided over whether the country even needs gun control. According to the Pew Research Center, which for 20 years has tracked American attitudes toward gun ownership, 47% now say it is more important to control gun ownership, while 46% say it is more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns.

Next you may be wondering why in the heck Americans so cherish their guns.

The sacred legacy of gun culture

Gun ownership in America has a sacred legacy dating back 200 years to the days of the Wild West.

According to romanticized national mythology, real men÷ were tough guys who wielded their guns to protect their women and children from the marauding Indians.

The reality, of course, was that the Americans used their guns to murder and pillage the Native Americans and drive them from the land. But those inconvenient truths are glossed over in favor of the story of guns as the potent symbol and protector of ‘us,’the Americans, the good-guys.

It’s that proud self-image of male courage and self-reliance that still drives American gun culture today.

But to today’s gun aficionados, Native Americans are no longer a threat. The new bad-guys are the government.

Government as the new bad-guys

Today when gun aficionados talk about ‘freedom,’ they’re talking about one particular kind of freedom – freedom from government oppression.

To them, unrestricted access to guns is what protects individuals from the tyranny of government. And the only way to ensure freedom is to ensure that individuals can confront the government through their weapons.

As National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne LaPierre says in his book Guns, Crimes and Freedom: ‘The people have the right, must have the right, to take whatever measures necessary, including force, to abolish oppressive government.’

All this might be understandable if America actually had an oppressive government, but that’s simply not the reality today.

In America if you disagree with the government, you can speak out freely against them, or vote them out of office. You can even sue them.

And America has an active media who love nothing more than to uncover abuse of power, so if you have a legitimate tip about governmental abuse, you’ll always find an eager taker in the media.

That’s why it’s so unconscionable that gun culture continues to thrive, despite the outrageous murder rate, despite the many peaceable means by which Americans can flex their power.

Power and freedom both need constraint

I’ve been quoted in the media saying that a woman who’s happy and successful is one who’s willing to ignore the rules and freely make her own life choices.

But that does not mean I support an NRA-style viewpoint of all government, all authority as evils to be violently warded off.

In a civilized society, freedom can not be unfettered. Political philosophers recognize that complete individual freedom would lead to anarchy.

And I can’t think of any other individual freedom on this planet today which deserves restricting as much as does the freedom to own guns in America.

American society is as violent as it is because of freedoms in excess.

Power and freedom both need constraint. And someone else’s freedom to own guns is not more important than my freedom to send my kid to school and know that she will come home alive.

In America, self-described land of liberty, certain freedoms come with a price. The blood of innocents has become too high a price to pay to maintain gun freedom, that too-gruesome, too-sacred feature of American culture and life.

*This column was originally written by the author in English. Hear the author read this English column aloud by clicking here.