To start, let me clarify something key here. Freedom is not virtue, as some circles are inclined to create that impression of it. Rather, it is the context of self-determination, whereby you decide what virtues to emulate, and what interests to pursue. Two people with freedom will not do the same thing, and in certain cases, may do completely opposite things. The concept of freedom is fascinating and thought-provoking. And the more one dedicates thought to it, the more fascinating they find it. I’m no different. It has dominated my approach to people, and to myself.
The thing is that we all say we want freedom, and in a way we are all right. But some of us prefer other things over freedom, and because of that we fall into traps. Often, what we want more over freedom is comfort and safety. As a Health and Life coach, I’m quite familiar with the concept of what we call the “critter brain.” It is the part of your brain that hates change–whether good or bad. And because change takes away comfort and risks safety, the critter brain will often self-sabotage, especially when things are going well. The problem with safety is that since it mitigates or eliminates risk, it grants little to no rewards.
There is a deeply innate understanding that we all have; that freedom means uncertainty. It means to have no one hold your hand every step of the way. For those free to love, risk heartbreak. Those free to wander, risk getting lost. Those free to pursue enterprise, risk a failed venture. It is this crippling, hamstring fear of failure why we often fail to assert ourselves by choosing freedom.
I often tell the ones I love and counsel, that no one can force you to do something you don’t want to do. Often we feel the pressure to conform to get along, fearing the social/political consequences. In the event said consequences appear in whatever form, they can be also seen by one’s community or larger society as a sign of one’s failures/shortcomings. We all want to belong, to be deeply loved and acknowledged, and to be safe. Most of us pick mediocre lives because we are afraid of our own success, and the alienation and scrutiny such things bring. In fact, sometimes–unfortunately, we prefer that others makes decisions for us.
But freedom (or liberty), and the assertion of it in one’s life is how human dignity is fully recognized. Whether it is given unto you, or you demand it, something crucial is being communicated: You exist. Your existence matters independent of others’, and therefore, no man is allowed to simply violate your right to self-determination. You are a capable being endowed by God with the same inalienable rights and dignity as the person next to you. You are a moral being–an individual whose actions and words will be judged upon their own merit.
My friend once said, “God is not a libertarian, but he would like for everyone else to be.” There’s a profound and elemental truth in that comical phrase. Those who seek to pressure you, or restrict your rights and responsibilities in the name of your best interests (paternalists), are oppressing you in the spirt of their own insecurities. If you cannot be trusted to make your own decisions, and then be rewarded or held accountable for them, not only are you seen as infantile, but you may be seen as a threat or impediment to a particular interest–whatever that may be. I have examples that I won’t expand on for sake of article length. But think on this, and you will understand.
We also fear being free because we do not believe that we are capable; which of course circles back to failure. The stories we tell ourselves matter. They dictate our behavior and experiences, which in turn validate the very beliefs that shaped them. If we change our stories, we change our lives. Those that do not trust you, or leave it up to you to make the best possible decisions for yourself and face your destiny, either refuse to acknowledge the fullness of your humanhood, or they fail to grasp the magnitude of it.
But you must be free. Free to love yourself enough to be honest with yourself, and with other people. Free to leave the party (or table)–in a manner of speaking–when it no longer suits your taste, or benefits you. Free to declare what you believe are the noble ideals for one to live by, and then live by them. Satisfaction does not come with freedom alone, but with the choices we make every day.
To be free has nothing to do with controlling outcomes in your life. 99.9 percent of life is out of your control. It simply means you acknowledge your frailty and embrace the uncertainty that comes with life, pressing onward and committing yourself to the pursuit of things you find worthy of your energies, to the best of your ability, and with help from others. You control your responses. Leaving our strongholds exposes us to new things. Sometimes those things are bad, and sometimes they are good. But if you don’t exercise your freedoms, you will never have the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of life.
The opportunity cost is staggering. To sacrifice freedom for comfort, you are living in a controlled environment. A controlled environment does not foster growth, does not maximize your chances of meeting the best people for you in your life, does not honor your strengths, and does not guarantee contentment and fulfillment. Often, as I have come to learn, our strongholds become our prisons.
The power of the decision is the strength to make decisions according to your principles or desires, whether at ease or under duress. It is informed by self-respect, assertion of dignity, and a healthy sense of self-reliance. That strength that builds healthy boundaries and enforces them, and cultivates a childish glee and embrace of spontaneity. It freely and deliberately honors “yes” and “no,” despising and warding off peer pressure. In this life, we shouldn’t simply wander, or go with the flow. There must be deliberation. Otherwise you’re not free, you’re just drifting. Without deliberation, freedom is irrelevant.
There is so much more to say on this topic. But I will leave it here for now. Be well.