Freedom. The entire history of the United States is wrapped up in this concept. Given its importance periodically we should take time to consider its nature.
When I talk to young people about freedom usually they tell me it means being able to do whatever you want. Often they will qualify this by saying as long as it does not hurt anyone else. This is a good working definition as far as it goes. But as people mature perhaps their concept of freedom needs to develop.
All politics aside, in the United States we have agreed to be restricted from doing a great many things. For example, despite the First Amendment, we cannot call out fire in a crowded theater as a joke. It is considered contemptible to use bigoted epithets. While it is true that people retain the freedom to do these things, in the former they could be criminally prosecuted and in the latter fired from their job or shunned. The penalty for exercising such freedoms is very high.
Another aspect of freedom that I rarely hear addressed is whether people are truly free if they are dominated by the animalistic or addictive sides of their nature. Are incessant womanizers really free or are they captives of their baser instincts? Can non-recovering alcoholics or drug addicts actually act in freedom or are they slaves?
Pippin, in the eponymous show, identifies the dichotomy after realizing that pursuing his hedonistic instincts has led to a hollow life: “If I’m never tied to anything, I’ll never be free.” To be truly free you must be able to make decisions unimpeded by ignoble desires and uncontrolled passions. Put another way, you need to understand your values and be able to act in accordance with them. Running your life on autopilot is not freedom but captivity and dependence.
Some might say that such an ideal is emotionally stunted, lacking in spontaneity, devoid of joie de vivre (joy of life – sounds better in French, no?) But freedom lies in between the sterile existence these criticisms imply and the decadence of a complete lack of control. To paraphrase an old expression: act in haste with lack of self-restraint, repent in leisure having done considerable self-harm.
This mature concept of freedom requires introspection and self-discipline. It is the essence of living intentionally. If your want to benefit from the fundamental rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, it is worth considering their order. The antecedent to liberty is life. What kind of life do you want to lead: one committed to doing anything you want (as long as it does not hurt anyone else) or one in which you are free to pursue that which you have consciously chosen and value?
Question – What does freedom mean to you?
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