Monday, June 29, 1998

Week of 06/29/1998

What Is Freedom?
A July 4th Perspective
- by David Matthews 2

What is freedom?

Politicians talk about it. Moralists decry it. Civil rights activists scream there’s not enough of it. Conservative say we have too much of it.

But what really is freedom?

Simply put, freedom is the unalienable desire to control one’s own destiny.

When we’re born, we’re all born relatively helpless. We’re dependant on parents and family members to protect us, feed us, and nurture us as we grow older. As we grow older, we often feel we no longer need that kind of dependency and protection. We strike out. We rebel. Eventually, most of us free ourselves from the control of our parents and other family members and are able to decide how we’re going to live our lives.

So, too, in many ways, is the control government feels it has on its citizens, as a protective parent overlooking his children.

Freedom was not a given in early society. Often, citizens were indebted to those who controlled the money or the land. They provided protection in exchange for their servitude.

Indeed, freedom was too often considered a sign of shame. A man exiled into the wilderness was given the ultimate freedom from government, but it came at a price. The price was not being able to consider themselves one with a society they prided themselves of being a part of. Eventually, however, that perspective changed. The chance to explore, to stake out a plot of land all their own, became the new drive. Freedom went from being a curse to being a prize.

The quest for freedom is not an easy one. America earned its freedom from a tyrannical king only after waging a war against England. Slavery in America wasn’t abolished until after the Civil War, almost a hundred years after the American Revolution. Although other struggles for freedom did not always involve bloody confrontations, they were also not easy to achieve.

Like a manipulative parent, government in any form is hesitant to surrender the power it enjoys.

There are many in society who would say that freedom is not as important as maintaining order. They consider freedom to be a luxury only enjoyed at the discretion of government. Ironically, those who subscribe to such a belief are often enjoying a vast amount of freedom themselves.

Freedom is often seen as subjective. What one man calls freedom, another calls abuse. The freedom to act, to speak, and to express one’s self in society has often been abused and misused by government and special interest groups eager to suppress under the guise of maintaining order.

Any tyrant can proclaim they support freedom, as long as it’s freedom "from" things. Freedom "from" crime, freedom "from" hate, freedom "from" being offended. Any tyrant can proclaim they support freedom as long as it’s freedom to maintain the status quo, or freedom to support what is considered "mainstream" or popular.

That is not what freedom is about.

Freedom is not limited to what is acceptable or safe. It is not limited to what is mainstream or considered by some to be appropriate. Freedom means taking risks. It means having to endure something that you might find offensive, knowing that what you say may also be considered by others to be just as offensive.

Freedom means living your life as you see fit, deciding for yourself where you want to live, and with whom. It means expressing yourself in a way you feel comfortable in doing, and it also means being able to change that which you do not feel comfortable in doing. It means being able to decide which church you want to pray in, and which kind of god you want to worship. And, yes, in the end, freedom is also how you want to die.

Freedom is deciding how you want your life be lived, whether to follow the path set by others, or to forge your own. Some of the most memorable people in human history forged their own paths. Who is to say that others should not be given the chance to do the same?

That is what freedom is about.

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