What is Freedom?

This 4th of July will probably be one of the oddest Celebrations of our Country’s Independence. We’re in the middle of a Pandemic, a Wave of Social Upheaval, and the exposure of an Economy that very clearly undervalues the efforts of some of it’s most essential workers. Recently, I was watching a news clip of a Mayor holding a press conference in Florida. The Mayor was recommending the wearing of masks by the residents of his city:

The exchange below begins at about at the 2:25 mark in the video.

The Mayor: “We feel like we can’t provide the necessary safe environment that everyone is entitled to enjoy when they come to our beaches…”

Someone in the Crowd: “FREEDOM!”

The Mayor: “YES SIR!”

I don’t know if the person in the crowd was frustrated or not, but that response of ‘freedom’ to the Mayor’s comments gives voice to a deeper thing that I think we are all probably feeling on some level right now. Our normal routines have been disrupted since March. People are restless and tired of talking to each other over video software. We want the bars to be open. We want to sit in restaurants. We want to go to concerts. We want our gyms to be open. We don’t want to have to wear masks and we want to gather as we please. We want freedom…

I believe that the feeling of being free is something that every human being wants but what does freedom mean? In my opinion, we often think of freedom in a tangible sense. Like ‘The Freedom to do whatever I want’. Like whatever career I want, or sleep as long as I want, or eat whatever kind of food I want. Why? Because We’re Americans and this is a Free Country. I think it’s interesting how we claim freedom when a situation implies that we might have to give up some of our normalcy, for the short term or forever.

I believe we often conflate freedom with comfort. Of course, we also get deeply attached to our expectations and stories about how life works. “This is my holiday! This is what we do every year! This is tradition!” In my mind, freedom has never been purely about unconstrained behaviors or the ability to follow whatever inclinations we have. Actually, quite the opposite I would say…

To me freedom has more to do with striving towards a better version of yourself in efforts to make more positive contributions to society at large. That process often involves imposing constraints on our actions in efforts to focus our energy into bringing to fruition a picture of life that is more aligned to who we think we can be. We work to express the potential that we believe we have. We forget how perilous life was just a couple hundred years ago… How many creature comforts we didn’t have… How scarce food was… How difficult it was to communicate or travel across the world… How many people in the world still live in those old conditions. Many of us live in a world that is physically comfortable and we consider this a part of our inherent freedom. However, I believe the recommended constraints of the Pandemic is revealing how impatient we can be, how thoughtless we can be, and how unreasonable we can be.

To be free to do whatever we want and be so frustrated when that ‘freedom’ is taken, is indicative to being a prisoner to our own framework. In this sense, we become enslaved to our own story. Life is supposed to work one way and when clear facts show that it doesn’t work that way, I react with frustration, disillusionment, denial, cynicism (the worst), etc. But what if we could transcend the limits of our own mind?

This isn’t some ethereal self-help spiritual guru stuff. It’s taking ownership of the problem, focusing on what you have, and moving towards what you want. An example of this from my own life is my continued pursuit of Mixed Martial Arts Training. I just recently made it to Central Arkansas and due to the fact that I don’t yet have a job and I am without a car, I’m unable to begin training at a local Mixed Martial Arts Gym, like I have very much wanted to. I was making huge strides at the gym I was a member of in Tacoma. But then the Pandemic came. The ‘problem’ is my ability to train, what I have is access to the internet where there is hours of content around solo fight drills, and what I want is to become a better fighter. Problem solved. It’s not ideal and it’s certainly not what I want, but I’m getting in better shape and I’m moving more fluidly everyday. I contest that I’ll be significantly better in sparring when I am able to be a member at a gym again.

The ability to shift into a new reality without death clutching the old reality — That’s freedom in my opinion. I could start at a gym right now but I’m considerate of the fact that my partner has become a full-time caretaker of an elderly family member. We know that COVID-19 is a huge risk for the elderly. Even with social distancing, gyms are probably still more risky environments for virus transmission. Patience and continued training on my own for now.

With that, I wish you a safe Independence Day:

…If you can wait but not be tired by waiting…

– from ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling

What is your definition of freedom and how does it make room for others to express their definitions of freedom?


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