People the world over cry out for “freedom,” but how often do we sit down and think about what it really means to be free?
Over the years, different people the world over embraced different interpretations of “freedom.”
Janice Joplin used to sing of freedom as “…nothing left to lose.” Is that what it means to be free? Or is that the state of mind that is needed to put everything on the line, and to venture forth in search of freedom?
The framers of the U.S. Constitution thought of freedom as conferring certain inalienable rights to the citizenry, such as freedom of religion, speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association.
On January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt spoke of the four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world” are entitled to: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.
However you define it, the notion of freedom has captured hearts and minds of people in all four corners of the world. And still somehow, it is often difficult to define what exactly it means to be free. Yet we realize, as we fight for freedom, that it is important to understand what it is to be free, so that at the end of the day, we know what it is we’re looking for, and recognize what it is when we finally find it.
Certainly there is a role for government to play in assuring to their people the basic right of freedom. Liberty is enhanced to the extent that governments undo the shackles of oppressive rule, external control, interference, regulation, etc. Freedom also grows as a person comes to believe that he is the master of his destiny and that he can make the decisions to chart his course in life, without excessive and unreasonable interference from government. And of course, freedom connotes a fundamental respect for human life, and the protection of a person’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
However, just as government can play its role, the individual himself has a role to play as well, in fighting for and sustaining a sense of personal freedom. It could well be argued that the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to think. Rene Descartes famously said, “I think, therefore I am.” Inherent in the human condition, and our existence as free human beings, is our ability to think, and I would add, our ability to think clearly, with common sense and personal dignity, unhampered by the biases, suspicions, prejudices and superstitions which are thrust upon us, at an early age, by the societies we find ourselves.
As we search for freedom in such diverse places as the Middle East, or the Far East, or the West, or wherever the need arises; if it is really freedom we’re after, and if we dare to be true to ourselves, then we have no choice but to let go of past prejudices and wrong-headed thinking, in favor of what makes sense, and what promises hope for the future.
Our challenge, as freedom fighters, is not an easy one. All too often, we are called upon to put everything on the line, in hope of finding something that may never be found. But perhaps the greatest challenge of all, as we seek our freedom, and the freedom of others, is to break the chains that bind us to the thinking of the past, and that keep us imprisoned in the psychological cages that we have built for ourselves. If we find the courage and the wisdom to break these chains of the mind, then, and only then, will we shine the light on the path to freedom.
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