Freedom, it’s not just a word

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I was playing a game of cards on my tablet. Quite a common occurrence for me. It’s a free game… who am I kidding, what games are free on phones, PC’s or tablets? They all treat you to a barrage of advertising for other, ‘free’ games. Even if you pay for a game these days, you only pay for part of it. There are add ons, adverts for extras, it’s not really paid for. Free is not free and ‘paid for’ just means an excuse to advertise more.

Free has become a very strange word indeed. Freedom has become an odd concept. It used to be that slavery and freedom were two opposites. You could tell one from the other. It was obvious which was which. Slavery was and is abhorrent, terrible and inhuman. Freedom was and is desirable and wonderful.

But are you free? How can you tell what freedom is? What does freedom mean?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines freedom like this: “The condition or right of being able or allowed to do, say or think, etc. Whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited.”

Colins Dictionary says “Freedom is the state of being allowed to do what you want to do.”

So, I ask again, are you free? Can you do, say or think, etc., whatever you want to, without being controlled or limited? Can you do whatever you want to do?

I would be extremely surprised if anyone can answer yes to that unequivocally. Surely, we all have limitations. Limits caused by expectations, money, family, physical ability, intellect or at least the law.

Freedom is not as the Cambridge nor the Collins Dictionary describes it at all. We can’t do whatever we want and yet most of us would say we are free; wouldn’t we? Or would you say you are in bondage? A slave? But a slave to what? To whom?

Is it society, work, commitments, money, physical limits, the law, expectations, gender, other people? What are we enslaved to? What stops us being free? If the freedom we are seeking is to do whatever we want, whenever we want then it could be any and all the above. But if we see that the bondage, we are in is really deeper than that. A bondage to something else. Then the question is what? Could it be that we are really held captive to our very nature? Does who we are and how we think limit our freedom. Are we in bondage to the guilt we feel because of our actions? Do we feel held back by the pain and regret from our past? Are we in a prison of sorrow and grief?

Sometimes, we look outside ourselves to find blame. Sometimes, that is justifiable. Often, we need to see where we must change. If we want freedom it won’t come by just pleasing ourselves.

I would describe Freedom as to live in peace and harmony with others. Freedom is to be able to live your life without the weight of guilt, pain, regret and sorrow. Freedom is to be able to choose to do that which blesses you, but also blesses others. If in your freedom you hurt others, that isn’t freedom. If others freedom hurts you, that isn’t freedom.

The Dictionary definitions of freedom could lead to anarchy, lawlessness, riots, widespread fear and panic. If everyone just did what ‘they’ wanted, without constraint, that isn’t freedom, that is hell on earth. Freedom, absolute freedom to do whatever you want sounds great, until you think of the consequences. There’s a word we are not keen on, consequences. It gets in the way of freedom. If only we could do what we like and it had no consequences. If eating and drinking whatever we want didn’t affect our bodies. If staying awake all night had no after effects. If any of the things you thought about had no effect on you or others, apart from fun that is.

But life is not like that. Much of the regret, pain, fear, hurt, anger, guilt, shame and sorrow we feel is a consequence of things either done by us or to us. Things that others felt they had the freedom to do, or we did. We live in a society that is more invested in fixing the problems caused by individual freedom, than in seeing not everything is right. In other words, we are lost in a desire to be ‘free’ individuals without understanding that true freedom can be a communal experience. We don’t have to be selfish, to be free.

If our freedom hurts others, it can never be right. If one person’s freedom causes pain, death or distress to another, they have robbed that person of freedom. There cannot be a justification for that.

We have become so wrapped up in the concept of individual freedom, that we have lost sight of communal freedom. It is not about whether one or two people are free to do what they want at the expense of others. Society must act in a way that benefits everyone fairly.

If this sounds political, then it is, with a small ‘p’. Because politics just means ‘group decisions.’ As a group of human beings, we should care enough for each other that we don’t just, ‘clap the NHS’ or look out for our neighbour, or give to charity. We should care enough for each other that we don’t allow our freedoms to limit theirs. That is the kind of freedom I believe in and champion. It is a freedom that ultimately leads to a truly free society.

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