As we approach Independence Day, my mind turns to the idea of freedom. Freedom is a difficult word to define. Ask ten people what freedom is, and you will get at least ten different answers. There are at least that many definitions in the dictionary.
The first five usages given in The American Heritage Dictionary for freedom follow:
1. The condition of being free from restraints;
2. Liberty of the person from slavery, oppression, or incarceration;
3. Political independence;
4. Exemption from unpleasant or onerous conditions;
5. The capacity to exercise choice; free will.
This idea of freedom is a little mind-boggling. Do we have it? How do we keep it? Do we want it? Can we give it? Can we take it way? On purpose or accidentally? Here are a few thoughts on freedom.
”Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” ~Moshe Dyan
In this statement, I believe Dyan uses this definition of freedom, ”the capacity to exercise free choice,” as being the fuel of our deepest being. This freedom to choose feeds the flame of human existence, and it must be protected from the very beginning of our lives.
”We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it.” ~William Faulkner
Faulkner, I think, is referring again to the definition of free will when he writes of freedom. We can’t sit around and say we are free or that we live in a free country. We must practice freedom. We must use our capacity to choose or lose this thing called freedom. Faulkner places a lot of responsibility on our exercising this ability to choose.
”Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
With freedom, Gandhi is talking about our capacity to choose. Our fear of failure, to borrow from other definitions of freedom, creates personal prisons, sentences us to a form of slavery or oppression and exiles us to unpleasant or onerous conditions. We are human. We err. Humans are the problem creators, as well as the problem solvers. Dyan’s pure oxygen of the soul allows us to make mistakes and dissolves the bonds of fear, granting us the power to fail and to learn.
”There are two freedoms–the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought.” ~Charles Kingsley
Kingsley’s version of freedom uses the definition of free will and our ability to choose. Gandhi and Kingsley understood that in exercising our ability to choose, we will err. Selecting false freedom is easy because it beckons us with pleasantries. The true choice lies in creating a life based on universal principles of truth, justice, courage, humanity, compassion, forgiveness and understanding.
Celebrate the Fourth of July. Think about freedom. Yours and our children’s.