Reflections on Freedom

As I reflect on our recent Freedom Day in South Africa on 27 April, I'm really touched by the thought that so many people have lost their livelihoods, family ties and even their lives  so that I can call myself FREE.







But what does Freedom actually mean?

Did you know that there are 17 Different interpretations of the word Freedom? I kid you not!

According to dictionary.com freedom can mean:


1.
the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint:
He won his freedom after a retrial.
2.
exemption from external control, interference,regulation, etc.
3.
the power to determine action without restraint.
4.
political or national independence.
5.
personal liberty, as opposed to bondage or slavery:
a slave who bought his freedom.
6.
exemption from the presence of anything specified (usually followed by from): 
freedom from fear.
7.
the absence of or release from ties, obligations,etc.
8.
ease or facility of movement or action:
to enjoy the freedom of living in the country.
9.
frankness of manner or speech.
10.
general exemption or immunity:
freedom from taxation.
11.
the absence of ceremony or reserve.
12.
a liberty taken.
13.
a particular immunity or privilege enjoyed, as by a city or corporation:
freedom to levy taxes.
14.
civil liberty, as opposed to subjection to an arbitrary or despotic government.
15.
the right to enjoy all the privileges or special rights of citizenship, membership, etc.,      in community or the like.
16.
the right to frequent, enjoy, or use at will
to have the freedom of a friend's library.
17.
Philosophy. the power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraint from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.




I remember a time when I couldn't sit where I wanted, move to where I wanted, eat where I wanted or be educated where I wanted. It was all controlled by an oppressive political state, which decided for me and millions of others where our boundaries of free movement and associations lie. We had what was called The Group Areas Act, which [then] would make my [now] marriage illegal and my children illegitimate! The mere thought of it induces frustration and anger.

So, now that we have our so-called Freedom, what now?

Well, I remember what happened when the new dispensation banned corporal punishment in our schools. Yes, until 1993 a South African teacher had the right to physically punish a student or learner. Within weeks of this new law setting in, schools all over the country started to experience an eruption of aggression and violence towards teachers. Those who had been kept in check with a stick now felt free to do as they pleased, because the stick had gone. Unfortunately for those who relied on the stick to gain obedience and respect, the retaliation was severe. My late mentor, Lou E. Tice, used to teach that there are two kinds of Freedom: 
Freedom From and Freedom For.

What is Freedom From? 

The above scenario of South African schools during the mid-nineties is a classic example of how Freedom From works. This kind of 'freedom' stems from the previously held understanding or belief that one is under strong obligation to do something ... "or else". The "or else" could be punishment, it could be humiliation or a withholding of something you desire or - at worst - imprisonment or death. In other words; if you've ever come across a phrase which sounds like: '... eat your vegetables or else you won't get any pudding ...' you will quite likely eat the vegetables. This off course is not because you love veggies, but that you fear the loss of pudding! It's a very light example, but I hope it illustrates the point. 

'Or else' type motivation is coercive and it carries, as a consequence, something unpleasant. When the "do as I say, or else"  type motivation falls away, then it makes way for reckless behaviour and rebellion, in most cases. 

The recipient of said coercion is now free from the consequences of their behaviour. They interpret this new development as a way to go ahead and do as they please; often with catastrophic consequences!




What is Freedom For?

When a person feels that they have a choice, they automatically make decisions and exhibit behaviours which seem like free will. These kinds of people also tend to be better at accepting consequences for their actions. They have strong ideas of what they would and would not do and they are willing to fight to maintain the ability to choose - freely.

You might ask: Does that not leave things open to anarchy, if everyone could simply choose what they wanted and didn't want to do?

Well, you see, Freedom For is more serious than just doing whatever you want. Those who understand the power of choice and consequence will readily not do something if it carries a punishment. The difference is, they make this choice out of the knowledge and freedom of belief that they can. 

A person with a Freedom For mindset would typically reason with themselves in the following way:
"I hate paying my taxes!"
Then stop paying your taxes. You don't have to, you know!"
"That's stupid, I can't just stop paying my taxes!"
"Yes, you can."
"No I can't. What if I end up in jail?"
"That would be a consequence of not paying your taxes. Do you want to go to jail?"
"No, off course not!!"
"Then, shut up and pay your taxes."

In their self-talk, the Freedom For person is able to reason themselves to a point where it's their own idea to comply; no one is forcing them to do it. They essentially choose to and want to. The added key here, is that they find a personal benefit in why the choice is a good one. In the example of paying ones taxes could help a person reason that you enjoy contributing to Governments infrastructure plans, contributing to public health care for those who can't afford private healthcare and so on. The above example can easily be extrapolated to studying for an exam, complying with company policy, writing that dreaded report and .... eating your vegetables.

One could argue that the coersion is now coming from yourself. Not so. It is the reinforcement of personal benefit to oneself, which causes the shift from "have-to" [coersive] to "choose-to, want-to, like-to" [constructive]. 

Once again, it all starts with how we talk to ourselves. The minute we say words like: " I have to", it automatically triggers an "or else" even if you're not consciously aware of it. The same applies for; "I must, I should, I'm supposed to", etc. This qualifies as internal coercion.

Those who are truly free exercise their freedom cautiously and with tremendous respect for others. They understand the responsibility which accompanies using one's power of free will and its impact on those around them.


Do the following exercise

Ask someone close to you - a colleague or family member - to count the amount of 'have-to's, musts, supposed to's " you use in a day. Then switch it around. It could be a fun way to eliminate the self sabotage, which automatically follows. 

"It's the power of the brain over your emotions" - Nelson Mandela.

Happy Freedom Year everyone!

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