Why is Freedom So Misunderstood?
We have all heard many a teenager cry, “I
want more freedom.” But is it really
freedom that these young people want?
No. What they want is to be able to do whatever they
want when they want. This is not true freedom.
Freedom is the ability to choose what is right. Thus,
freedom in its purest form is found only in slavery—
that is, we who are slaves to truth are truly free.
There are, of course, many different types of freedom.
You are free to dine at the Waldorf but you cannot
dine for free. So your freedom in this case is dependent
on your financial situation. Political liberty is a freedom
that belongs only to those fortunate enough to live
in a country whose constitution affords such freedom.
You have the freedom to choose your profession, but
your choice is dependent on your academic abilities.
These types of freedom are restricted; they are not absolute
or complete. For by choosing to be a lawyer, you
prevent yourself from being a doctor, and by choosing
to buy a fast new car, you prevent yourself from spending
that money in a hundred different ways.
Another type of freedom is the freedom to do as one
ought. While an animal is a slave to its passions and
sensuous desires, humans are equipped with the freedom
to do what they ought or ought not to do. When
we embrace this freedom, it allows reason to dominate
over the passions in accord with a higher law.
But this type of freedom also allows us to choose
otherwise. And the cost of exercising this freedom appropriately
is often very high. For example, you make a
computer error at your job in a bank, and you know
that if the mistake is traced to you, you will lose your
job. The only way that your boss can find out, however,
is if you admit to the error. You possess the freedom of
will to admit the mistake, but the cost of exercising
such freedom may be your job. One who is a slave to
truth would admit the error and thus surrender her position
because of her just exercise of freedom. She realizes
that her freedom is of much greater value than her
job. This freedom of the will is very different from the
freedom to do as one wishes.
The human being is a delicate composition of body
and soul, an intertwining of the material and the immaterial.
The material part of the human being (the body)
is governed by one set of laws, while the immaterial
parts (the intellect, will, soul) are governed by their
own laws. An understanding of our free choice is essential
not only to understanding what we are as human
beings but also to understanding how we can move toward
fulfillment, completion, and perfection.
Even a prisoner possesses some freedom to do as he
wishes within the constraints of his imprisonment.
And certainly we all enjoy the freedom to think whatever
we choose. We are all entitled to our own opinions,
but this does not make all opinions equal. For
example, if it is your opinion that all opinions are equal
while another person believes that all opinions are not
equal, then based on your belief, you must admit that
his opinion is equal to yours, even though it directly
contradicts your own.
There are many types or degrees of freedom.
The highest and the greatest of these is the
freedom to choose what is right.
In the midst of this we are brought to the question
that is as old as humanity. What is truth? We seek truth.
The experiences of our lives unfold truth for us, and
once we have discovered some element of truth, we either
embrace it or try to ignore it. By embracing it we become
a little truer and a little freer; by ignoring it we
become slaves to a lesser reality, which often consists of
pleasure, comfort, possessions, or pride.
From A Call to Joy
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