I was thinking a bit about “freedom” today during a drive and thought I’d write something out. This is not meant to be a rigorous analysis of “freedom”. Rather, it’s a personal reflection on one sort of freedom.
Many of us have experienced the sheer joy in becoming free. It is usually used in the sense of dispensing a restrictive bind. It may be experienced in an everyday, average life; leaving a job you dislike or having a tedious meeting finally come to an end. Or it may be a release from a more serious oppressive force like an escape from an abusive home, or a divorce from marriage that simply isn’t working anymore, or escaping an oppressive regime.
Some popular quotes from influential freedom-seekers also put it in these terms:
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.”- Martin Luther King
“Better to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life.” Bob Marley
It is typically in this sense that freedom is discussed; as the reward for a war against oppression. Freedom in this sense is as a positive experience, usually for growth and development.
However there’s a another complicated side of ‘freedom’ that doesn’t get as much discussion.
Freedom (at least I have in mind on an individual level) often comes with a set of responsibilities which can be unnerving, even terrifying. Freedom in this way is a contradictory experience; we typically think of freedom as the release of a bind of (forced?) responsibility to someone/something- not the inheritance of it.
What do I mean?
Freedom in it’s “purest” sense isn’t a pragmatic possibility; the ability to act without restriction or consequence is impossible.
Sitting here now I think it would be wonderful to conjure up a fire breathing dragon and fly to Thailand in the next 24 hours for an island hoping adventure. As positive of a person as I am in reaching and attaining the seemingly impossible, this most certainly is impossible in this world (save for my imagination).
This isn’t just an issue of “doing whatever you wanna do”. We also have complicated issues that surround ‘freedom’ in public convention. The freedom of speech is taken as a nearly sacred right in the United States of America (complicated issues around that as well. I won’t get into that here), but it is certainly not without restriction; yelling “Fire!” in a crowded room when there is no fire is not a permissible act. Nor are we as individuals free to claim land, murder, etc..
A close friend of mine experienced her own struggle with “freedom”, which prompted this musing. She felt oppressed by living with her family- and to some degree oppressed by herself- so she left for a new city. I believe the hope was in freeing herself from her family she’d discover herself. She was staying with a mutual friend but when she was finally confronted with the weight of the responsibility of that freedom, she realized she wasn’t quite prepared for it. I believe in this case that in escaping and becoming free from outside forces made her more aware of her own chains that she built for herself.
In others I’ve seen anger due to the past become crippling and consuming in the present. They let that anger grow and use the past to explain their behaviors in the present. Many of them crave the freedom from that anger but are enslaved to some degree by their own mind. The habit of explaining away one’s own mistakes on other factors than the self is a nasty one to break.
Freedom from the chains that oppress us-whether it be family, or anger, or self-loathing, etc.- force us to confront our own faults and character flaws. Having no one to blame but oneself and taking responsibility for it is difficult.
I however find great comfort in that freedom. It can be difficult being in an empty room with only yourself to look at and blame when things go wrong. Once you do though it becomes a liberating experience. In that growth blossoms beautiful experiences and relationships.
Freedom can be a scary experience. Mostly because when we are released from the chains of whatever has been oppressing us, we are confronted with who we are. We are entirely responsible for our actions and our future. For some of us, that’s a liberating challenge worth taking. For others, it’s an overwhelming and frustrating experience. For most it’s probably a bit of both.
In any case though it is worth preserving and taking seriously; and also remembering that it does come with responsibility not just to others but to ourselves.