This is an article I wrote two years ago. I uncovered it recently to find I haven’t fully learned the lesson I’m sharing here, but I do feel I’m doing pretty well at this…
What does freedom mean?
Common knowledge has it that we are now all free. I would disagree, but that’s a long debate, the majority of which is for another time. The only way in which we are currently free is within ourselves, as we have the freedom to choose our own actions within a given framework of society and consequence. Then there is always the question of the interdependent nature of freedom – for example, if I am granted the freedom to kill anyone I want, it strips you of your freedom (human right, in fact) to live without constant fear that I will show up and kill you. This is where the myopic nature of second-amendment style freedom falls apart.
So one must always be careful when addressing the concept of a struggle for freedom.
I believe, however, that we will know we are truly free when we have acquired the greatest freedom of all – that is, to be completely open about who we are and what we think/feel/believe without being subjected to bullying and cruelty and mockery.
In today’s world, it is a constant uphill battle to be open. Many fail to even be open to themselves, burying themselves under layers of cognitive dissonance, neuroses, or character disorders. Personally, I work very hard to be open to myself, and yet I’m always uncovering hidden motives and fears and sore spots, that I wasn’t acknowledging to myself, but were there all along.
But regret is the most powerful enemy of all.
Like many of us, I have lost people I loved, at the blink of an eye. To the barrel of a gun, the scattered metal of a crash, or the sudden grasp of a deadly disease… and every time it happened, I was left paralyzed. Alone, without that person, with my thoughts and a lifetime of regrets. And one question always comes back.
Did he/she know how much I loved him/her?
My old friend! There you are, you precious little question, always arriving the second I no longer can do anything about that issue. Why didn’t you show up last month, and give me some time to tell them?
So on one level, I live in fear that my close people (or I myself) could go at any minute. On another, I find myself completely unable to tell them how important they are to me. Now, we’ve all seen those chain letters, tragic tales of people going, and the warning to “tell everyone you love that you love them, now, while you still can”. If only it were that easy!
Can I go up to the girl upstairs and tell her that I am very fond of her, considering that I have been warned that she can’t be trusted?
Can I visit a colleague and tell him that I respect, admire, and outright adore him, just out of thin air like that, without him questioning my motives?
Take the case of Hugo, adopted father of Jacob, also my yoga teacher – who was shot in the heart two years ago while standing up to assassins on behalf of their target. I would love to tell him how much I admire him, how valuable a person he was, how much he changed my life, and how grateful I am to him for everything he did for Jacob, as well as his calming and empowering effect on my own life. But you don’t just stop your yoga teacher on the way out of class to say something like that. Nobody does, and it’s unrealistic to pretend otherwise.
Still old man question comes around once you’ve lost the opportunity. Why didn’t I? How come nobody does? Why couldn’t I have been brave and broken the mould?
What is the solution? Should we all go around singing each other’s praises all the time? Maybe not. Society isn’t safe enough yet. You bear your soul and someone insecure has the ability to shred it. If everyone were secure, I like to think this wouldn’t be a problem anymore. An added complication is that when someone is genuinely appreciative of us, we sometimes feel so touched as to feel uncomfortable, and then things become very awkward very fast. Which, in turn, discourages people from trying again to be open.
In that respect, I see this as the final battle for a truly equal, truly free world.
But it is interesting that this is the one area of freedom that we “freedom fighters” often don’t bother fighting for, except on the most basic level…