We’re as free as we want to be. Perhaps it’s a trite statement, yet with the Fourth of July holiday upon us, I cannot help but consider it.
Freedom is a choice. At least for those of us that are fortunate enough to live in countries where we aren’t punished for speaking our mind in private conversation or online. You need only look at Turkey’s ongoing crisis to realize that free speech is not certain in this world.
Yet many of us don’t feel free. We feel trapped by the rat race, that we’re not engaging enough online. We feel like we should meet preached expectations of social media success.
Some fear being viewed as positive or negative, or having our personal views and feelings exploited by friends, family, employers, and yes, the government. Others of us feel like we’re suffering through litanies of rants and negativity while desperately seeking meaningful connectivity.
Government and big business offer their own dangers, perhaps taking away our rights to privacy. In recent months we’ learned that our social network conversations are compromised via the NSA’s PRISM programs. The major social networks have a council of censors or free speech advocates (depending on your perspective) that decide what conversations should and should not be taken off the Internet.
Some of us worry about algorithms replacing us, from analysis to content. Big data is a scary beast that few fully understand. We worry that technology will rip the roots of civilization out from under our culture, turning humanity into an attention seeking swarm.
We are free.
Greek philospher Nikos Kazantzakis once said, “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” Applied in reverse, we are free to worry and fear, prisoners of our own self-created bondage. Or we are free to move forward to better things which fulfill us, whether that’s by choice of focus, or by simply moving on. Heck, we can choose to not pay attention to any of it, and focus on only the moment.
We’re as free in mind and spirit as we want to be.
Understanding Free Choice
Many of the things we suffer are direct or indirect results of our decisions. A mortgage can seem stifling, but who signed the finance agreement?
Let me give you a personal example: I could not get my novel published in 2004. It came close, but for whatever reason, the deal fell through.
This past January I decided to pick up the rock again, and publish Exodus. But rather than wait on the usual proposal process with agents and publishers, I chose to bypass all of it and publish independently. I was and still am free to publish without the bureaucracy of the traditional publishing industry. As Thomas Jefferson said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
But choosing to publish without the establishment has its consequences, including decisions to expend time and money to produce a professional product. Consequently, I was unable to invest time this year in many leisure activities that others enjoy. I incurred risk knowing the book may not sell, thus creating a potential loss for my business.
One could say I was trapped by my decision. Fatigue, mental drain, and a bit of weight gain were some of the other consequences.
Personally, I feel rewarded by the experience. I have never felt as free creatively.
Now that I am finished with the editorial stage, I can enjoy myself for a little while. Heck, I can choose to just publish the book at the end of summer, and not market it. But, I prefer to be read, or at least make every attempt to become read. Choice brings consequence and responsibilities that affect quality of life.
Everyone has a choice to think, focus and yes, do things.
People associate freedom as the feeling of being able to do anything. While I believe in free thought, I believe true freedom is an act, the execution of a decision, and then seeing that decision through.
I’m as free as I choose to be, but I have to be willing to take the action. When I choose not to act — which is an action in its own right — options disappear.
Restrained or Willing
Life happens. Sometimes people do bad things or act for larger reasons that affect us. You can say that we lose the freedom of choice because of such acts.
For example, your spouse loses their job. Because your husband or wife isn’t working, you enjoy less mobility and feel like you can’t speak your mind as freely at work.
But is that really so?
I think we have a choice. We can choose to react or respond. We can choose to fall down, or embrace challenges. Outcomes in life often come down to how we choose to invest our energy when the chips are up or down.
In his existentialist musings, Jean Paul Sartre said freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you. I get that.
Some of the most powerful examples of freedom come from prisoners of war and holocaust survivors. They were imprisoned in body, but free in spirit. For example, Viktor Frankl exercised the freedom to determine his own attitude and spiritual well-being while his family died before his very eyes at Auschwitz. Vietnam War POW Roger Ingvalson said, “It’s very important to exercise your mind in prison.”
Freedom is something you can always cherish, even in the darkest of moments. It’s a choice, even if its only in spirit and mind.
This July Fourth
This July Fourth I feel a great sense of freedom. Partly because of the book, which I noted above. Nineteen years is a long time to have an idea in your head. Simply getting it out is incredibly freeing.
But I am also free from the bondage of the in-crowd. I don’t need to nor do I adhere to any particular school of blogging or social media expertise. In the past year, I threw away the rules and perceptions of how I should blog and act online, and that’s been tremendously freeing.
I’m also free from the need to be popular online. I cut a blog post, shifted topics and formats, and took down share counts. All of these affected my popularity as a blogger negatively. All of them were the right decision for me as a writer. Incredibly freeing.
I am free in so many ways. It’s nice to know that.
And most importantly, I am free to be present with my family, and breathe this July Fourth. I can choose to not be online, to rest, and I intend to act upon those choices. So, no blog post on Friday.
How will you celebrate freedom this weekend?