Friday, July 3, 2015

The Yoke of Freedom

"The Sky's the Limit"
- a desert day -

Most Americans have already begun to celebrate the “4th of July” weekend – the commemoration of that day when we first gained our “freedom from” the bonds imposed upon this land by a foreign power.  

It has always seemed odd to me that so many people in this “land of the free” have so little understanding of what authentic freedom is all about. In fact, true freedom is much better understood as “freedom for” rather than “freedom from.”

People imagine that because we live in a “land of the free” we are entitled to do whatever pleases us- “free from” the tyranny of restrictions. I can still very clearly remember growing up as an “erstwhile hippie” back in the 1960’s where the motto of the day was, “If it feels good, do it.” The hippie era may have ended long ago but, as I see it, the sentiment about doing whatever feels good still very much prevails.

Many people in this country have fallen into a trap of placing personal gratification as a high if not the highest priority in life. They believe that living in a land of the free means that we should place no restrictions upon personal gain and individual comfort, and to be “independently wealthy still remains the American dream for a whole bunch of people.

And yet, if you look at the record of history, any nation or culture that has placed such an emphasis upon individual gratification and personal gain has always been on a slippery  slope that has inevitably led to disaster.

Sometimes what appears to be freedom is actually bondage.

Several years ago the psychologist Eric Fromm offered a very helpful distinction between authentic freedom and what may appear to be freedom (but is actually not freedom at all). He defined “authentic freedom” as a “freedom for” and pseudo-freedom as “freedom from.”

Any person or nation that is truly free always acts “for” others, on behalf of the common good. People who are truly free use their freedom to share one another’s burdens.

When Nelson Mandela was locked up for years in a South African prison he had lots of time to seriously reflect on what it might mean to be free.  But instead of just dreaming about the day when they would come, unlock his prison cell and allow him to go free, he concluded that he could never be truly free without concern for the good of others. He even found true freedom by caring about the welfare of the guards who held the keys to his cell.  In fact, in many ways, locked up within a prison cell, Mandela discovered what authentic freedom really means. In his journal he wrote:

To be free is not merely to cast off chains,
but to live in a way that brings about the freedom of others.

On this weekend as I celebrate the joy of living in this “land of the free,” I embrace the gift of authentic freedom and accept my responsibility to live “free for” others and not “free from” them.

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