The Burden of Freedom
This is my nineteenth entry into the 1001 challenge to write one thousand and one words everyday throughout the month of November. Leggo!
Being free sucks. To put it mildly.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but the point is, freedom isn’t as rosy as Hollywood would like you to imagine. In fact, screw Hollywood, freedom isn’t as rosy as most “free” people would like you to imagine. It has its benefits, no doubt, but they come at a price, and I feel like a lot of people are ignorant about what this price is, and are thus blindsided, when it’s time to pay.
It’s usually defined as the state of being unconstrained, and when people hear that, they imagine it’s solely about rule breaking, doing whatever you want, having no one to answer to, and having nothing to worry about. While these traits may communicate freedom, they don’t necessarily connote it, and in the event that they actually do, they paint a very distorted picture of what it is. This distorted picture, is unfortunately what leads to stupid liberalism; the type of liberalism in vogue these days; the type that leads to extreme hedonism, unrealistic ideals of equality, a lack of boundaries, a lack of structure and a general inability to do anything worthwhile. Moving on.
The first thing that hits most people on their arrival at independence, after the initial euphoria, is the amount of responsibility that follows. The aspects of living, that being under an authority shields you from, become apparent. For example, in the case of the young adult who gets into university and starts to live on his own, the first thing he notices, is how hard it is, to actually organize his life, and maintain that organization. It’s not that he had no responsibilities or chores under authority, but then, the regulators of these acts of responsibility (parents/guardians) have been removed from the picture, and now the wheel has been passed to him. He has to step in, to direct himself to do what he knows to do, and depending on circumstance, he has to come up with his own method for fulfilling these tasks, because the conditions will most likely be different from what he’s used to.
Most people chart this phase of the course relatively successfully, but the thing is, this burden never leaves. Quite the opposite happens actually; as one progresses through life, the burden increases. You go from being cared for, to caring for yourself, to caring for yourself and others; if you get that far. And in time, you slowly come to realize, that what we call freedom is actually just voluntary slavery; you get to choose what rules you, as opposed to default slavery where all choice is stripped from you. You come to realize, that total and absolute freedom, is either an illusion, or a concept our current models of living and perception prevent us from apprehending.
It’s not as depressing as it sounds, it’s just one of life’s principles; there has to be some rigidity; a strong, immovable foundation, before anything can exist. It is from this rigidity, that flexibility can evolve. Choosing your ruler, is your way of creating this foundation. Some rulers are benevolent, and uplifting; serving them brings growth, and strength. Others are destructive, and are only good for draining your life. These rulers come in the form of habits, beliefs, and values. They are the emissaries of, and the medium by which, the “sun” you choose, is created, and shines.
That said, the burden doesn’t end at choosing the right rulers; it is also your responsibility to see that they serve the purposes you chose them for. Habits can easily switch sides, traits that were beneficial can become detrimental, beliefs that served you can hinder you, your source of freedom can easily become a cage.
Thus, this potential plot twist, takes us to the next realization: freedom and slavery aren’t dichotomies, they’re two sides of the same coin. Being a slave (a voluntary one that is) makes you a ruler of some sort, because your ruler is subject to your subservience; without your input, there’s no rule. Likewise, the things you’re ruled by, are also your slaves, because in the end, you serve them to further your own flourishing. It’s a yin and yang type of thing. I guess, it’s also why Jesus said, him who seeks to be the greatest, must first be the least among you, because in serving others, that is, in seeking to promote their flourishing, and their growth, you create people that will seek to serve you as well. The more people you serve, the higher the number of people willing to serve you, and so the cycle goes.
This, for various reasons, doesn’t play out that well, in reality. It could be that the people you serve don’t recognize your service, or it could be that they simply are not interested in returning the service or something else entirely. Notwithstanding, if you edit Jesus’ words to say “him who seeks to be the greatest, must be the least, with sense, strategy and proper branding” the principle holds true.
So, where does this leave us? If freedom and slavery are so intertwined that they can’t be separated (unless at extremes), what does it mean for the human quest to be free? Do we give it up? Do we stay in our involuntary slavery, seeing as it’s more of the same thing on the other side, just to different masters?
To answer the first question, I think the human quest for freedom, should be replaced, by a quest for awareness: for an understanding of how reality really works, rather than the way we feel it should work. To the latter two questions, the answer is no. Giving up on choosing your masters is relinquishing your humanity, because it involves letting go of your greatest asset: the ability to choose. And like I mentioned earlier, some masters are worth serving; there is work that is worth doing, there is a strenuous lifestyle that leaves you tired but satisfied, rather than tired and empty (the default result of most lifestyles). Don’t sleep on the magic life has to offer because you don’t know better.
Find these masters, and surrender; seek awareness rather than chill vibes. It won’t be easy, but then nothing is. Peace.