The Flip Side of Freedom

Updated: Jul 28

Recently, a friend mentioned to me how much he likes his freedom: he likes to think and do as he pleases. We also discussed how he likes to decide on the rules everyone should follow, especially if they are the rules he is abiding by. For example, he can’t stand when people don’t drive as fast as he thinks they should be driving, or as slow as he is driving based on the traffic signs. He also mentioned that he wants to be free to decide what he wants to be responsible for and leave every other aspects of his life to someone else to manage. And when I asked him to explain who he expected to take care of his life for him, he confessed that he didn’t care who did it. Basically, the man wants to be free with the least responsibility possible. And that is the trick with freedom: it always comes with responsibility.

Before any of you attacks me for saying my friend wants freedom but no responsibility, I want to say that I believe we are all born free, and we are ultimately free to live, do and be all that we desire. However, we often forget that freedom has a cost, always. For example, even though we are free to do whatever we want, we don’t exercise our freedom when it comes to the time we show up at work, or the way we talk to our elders. Because, we all know that showing up late at work or disrespecting our parents bears consequences we don’t like. At least, most of us have been taught that. Most of us also obey rules of society for the same reason: breaking rules has consequences. Yet, we maintain our sense of freedom despite following rules. If we all agree on that principle, then you should agree with me that every action has a consequence we are responsible for.

Every single one of our decisions impact the life of at least one other person than us. You want proof? Let’s say you decide to not brush your teeth today. It is your right and we don’t even have laws that will force you to brush your teeth. But unless you live away from the rest of society, your decision to keep a stinking breath will definitely affect the way people interact with you throughout the day. If your stinking breath is a one-time situation, your friends and family might turn it into a joke they will say every year at Christmas. But, if you decide to never brush your teeth for an extended period of time, you might lose your job, and a few acquaintances. If you don’t have a source of income, you will depend on someone: family member or government. I let you imagine all that could happen from there. All that because you exercise the freedom to not brush your teeth. And there are many examples like that when a simple and seemingly insignificant decision we make has a ripple effect on the people around us and society. Now, when is it okay to exercise our freedom?

I like to think that to truly enjoy freedom, we should start with responsibility. I read somewhere that responsibility means “ability to respond” (I believe I read it in one of Jack Canfield’s books). Based on that, I think we should always start by thinking of the result we want to create. Knowing the outcome we want to experience, we can foresee the actions that will be required as well as the consequences of those actions. If we are ready to deal with the consequences, then we can act; in which case we cannot complain about the results we get. In the previous example of the person who doesn’t want to brush their teeth anymore, they must be okay with living away from most of society, losing friends and job. And, I know some people who live that way and they say they want to be free from conformism. There, that is true freedom. Some might even call it “being authentic”. What wouldn’t be freedom would be if they complain about people not accepting them as they are (with stinking breath). If I exercise the freedom to eat whatever way I desire, I am taking the risk of getting sick. My sickness not only makes me a charge for others, but also keeps me from pursuing my dreams and possibly having a positive impact on my community. Again, my decision is affecting more people than just myself.

Some people like to use the example of freedom fighters to justify why they should be allowed to do whatever they feel like doing. But, they are missing an important point: when we use freedom for convenience, we end up experiencing limitations; but when we use our freedom to reduce limitations, we end up experiencing liberty in the areas of our lives that really matter. Think of Rosa Parks, we all know she didn’t become famous because she thought it was time to defy the system. If memory serves me well, the woman was tired and was sitting anyway where she was supposed to sit. And, it was unjust for anyone to ask her to concede her seat, especially due to her skin color. Now, this is what I believe Rosa Parks thought about: “I am tired but if I stay seated, I will go to jail; I am okay with that. I believe I am a worthy human being and by sitting here I am not hurting anyone”. That is not coming from convenience. On the contrary, she got arrested. She knew the consequences and never complained about it. And look what she helped create. Exactly the kind of freedom every human being deserves. We can all agree that, even if the situation still needs improvement, Rosa Parks by placing some limitations on herself helped the African Americans experience more freedom.

In conclusion, we cannot have it both ways: standing up for what we believe in and “blending in society”. No matter which one we decide, we should always be ready for the consequences of it. As long as our freedom does not hurt another person, we can all pursue it with full understanding that freedom comes with responsibility: to ourselves and our community.

How do feel about freedom? When is it okay to exercise it? Do you feel free in your own life?

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