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What is Freedom, Really? 

freedom at shore

I know and love a lot of drifters.  They own no property, have no primary relationship or children, and have no long term job or business.  They live as house sitters, work in short spurts, and occasionally pair up in short term relationships.  They are seemingly unencumbered and able to drop everything to travel or try something new.

Are they free?

I own property outright, have a mortgage on my house, have been married over three decades, have young adult children, animals, and a long term career with a steady income stream and required work hours.  I also consider myself freer than most people I know.

The drifter who can pick up and travel spontaneously may seem freer.   But I still maintain that I, with more encumbrances, am the freer person.

Here’s why:

Freedom isn’t about lack of accountability.  True freedom is the ability to respond (as in “respons-ability”).

Drifters don’t put stakes in the ground or make commitments.  They hang back, keep their options open, make life choices from what shows up, and don’t ask the tough questions they need answers to in order to direct their lives.

This is a passive approach to choices and decisions which have as much consequence as the active choices in life.  But passive decision making is like being in a boat with no oars or rudder, getting carried by the current of the moment.

Is this really freedom?  What if you land where you don’t want to be and still don’t have the wherewithal to change course?  How many people have I encountered who want to move or make other major changes but can’t afford to get where they think they want to go?

I think, in our country today, originally formed by outlaws and rebels, our continued admiration of renegades along with a concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a very few and an economy and corporate media conspiring to keep us in cycles of blind consumption, that we have created a whole generation of disempowered young people.

Look at our violence rate in this country.  It’s not the guns that are killing people; it’s, for the most part, the disempowered young men.  For whatever reasons, each apparently has failed to develop responsibility, the ability to respond.

Freedom is power.  And with it comes responsibility.  We all are capable of creating acts of violence that snuff out the lives or well-being of others, an act of power without responsibility.  Most of us never do because we develop our ability to respond and to wield our power in a way that sustains our position in the world.

Responsibility includes taking a look at our circumstances and making choices accordingly.  I had a patient that I was treating for a serious drug addiction.  We had a clear written agreement of his responsibilities as well as mine.  After several weeks of missing all of his appointments, he returned with the story that he had been arrested and jailed for driving his girlfriend’s rental car (without his name on the rental agreement) home from court without the breathylizer that his license required.  The rental car was impounded and he now had to work extra hours to afford the enormous fees to get it out.  He argued that the police officer had had no reason to stop him and that he was only driving because his girlfriend was too sleepy to drive safely.  In short, it wasn’t his fault that he’d landed in jail, it was unfair that he’d been arrested, and I should excuse him from further required appointments so that he could work.

What was wrong with this picture and why did I dismiss this young man from the program?  He clearly considered himself exempt from my rules as well as from the law.  He failed to grasp that freedom is not driven by his needs of the moment and he showed no sense of responsibility.  Most importantly, he was not taking responsibility for his addiction or behaviors, and seemed to think that he could achieve sobriety without making a commitment and taking authentic action.

You can’t have true freedom without responsibility and we are entirely too hung up with rights in this country without looking at responsibilities.  We talk about the pursuit of happiness, but when does happiness ever result from rights without responsibility?

I am not confined by my marriage, my work, or my home.  I am freer than those without these things because my ability to respond is greater.  They may be able to uproot and travel more quickly than I can, but they don’t have a mate to share life with or a place to put their furniture.  I may be less footloose, but I have the flywheel that keeps turning, allowing me to do more in the world.

We all have limits and obligations.   Consider, for example, our basic needs for food, water, shelter and love.  For each of us, the fear of lack of any of these can lead us to various acts of self-protection.  When we envision our lives based on our fears instead of our desires, we may create all kinds of traps for ourselves, like houses or insurance we can’t afford or unhealthy relationships.

As a country, we are bankrupting ourselves in the pursuit of absolute security (as President Eisenhower warned we would), as we spend billions of dollars to defeat perceived enemies to our freedom all around the world—all while failing to create a safer and more loving environment at home.

Freedom is not the lack of constraints or boundaries.  It is the ability to live within constraints and to respond.  Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for decades but never stopped being a beacon of freedom for an entire country.

Most people don’t know who they are or what they want, so they are afraid to commit and thereby close options.  Yet, by not making active choices, they trap themselves in a cage of their own making, forever wondering when their happiness will arrive.

My conclusion is that conscious choices and responsibility are far more likely to lead to freedom and, ultimately, happiness.

If you don’t like where you are in life, the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Who am I and what is my goal?
  2. What are my circumstances?
  3. How can I respond in my current situation in a way that takes me closer to where I need to go?



One thought on “What is Freedom, Really? ”

  • Beth Robinson
    Beth Robinson July 6, 2016 at 10:15 AM

    What I find so amazing is the tanacity of those who are so invested in the rejection of even the notion that the power of choice even exists. Active choice employs responsibility, even for decisions that dont yield the desired result.
    Its OK to be responsible for both personal failure and personal success. For some, passive choice provides the illusion that there is no responsibility for failure, and serves to reinforce the victim mentality, while if the result has some positive outcome, that outcome is perceived as the result of Karma or some other illusive cause.
    Life is not a game of "bumper cars".

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