In the United States, as I’m sure it has elsewhere as well, the word “freedom” has taken on almost sacred stature. Freedom, the ability to act upon our own initiative, undoubtedly has deep roots in the evolution of human kind. Within the U.S., the cultural associations placing a high value on freedom seem to originate in the war for independence from the British fought during the late 1700’s. Another profound association is with the Emancipation Proclamation and the freeing of slaves which took place during the period of the American Civil War. And there were all the courageous soldiers, sailors, airmen and others from many countries who fought to free themselves and others from fascism and malevolent dictatorship during World War II. There is no question these periods of U.S. history were filled with profound events and gave a deep and abiding quality to the meaning of “freedom”. At least for some.
But does “freedom” resonate identically in the minds of all who hear it?
Generally, freedom is regarded as a good thing. But are there behaviors we don’t really want people to be free to engage in? Of course there are. We don’t want anyone to be free to commit robbery, burglarize our home, abuse children, assault others, destroy essential public property such as schools. These are a few activities we don’t want people to be free to engage in. Deep down it seems human beings have an innate sense of what is good for us and what isn’t.
There are other important concepts which also are deeply rooted in our history, religions and myths. Wisdom, love, brotherhood, sisterhood, truth, honesty. Perhaps these are even more central to our well-being than “freedom”? Freedom is only positive within individuals and cultures when these other concepts are understood and subscribed to. Some freedoms, if not tempered by wisdom and responsibility, can be the proverbial “just enough rope to hang ourselves with”.
It seems to me that these days there are so many people in the world in need of a freedom of one kind or the other; freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, and more. However, it appears there are people in positions of worldly power whose idea of “freedom” means the freedom to repress, cheat, exploit, lie, and even kill in order to increase monetary gain and power for themselves. It’s as if the slave owners in the mid-1800’s were rallying under the banner of “freedom” to demand the freedom to continue slavery.
As with so many other aspects of our world and lives, to know if “freedom” is a positive or negative aspect, we need to consider “freedom” within the context at hand. What is really being talked about? Freedom for who to do what? An essential, healthy expression of human life or something more akin to a license to misuse and/or abuse others?