This post is thanks to the thoughtful and kind comments received from one of my subscribers, Z.F. Thrimej, who mentioned their use of anagrams and how I inspired their latest post. This inspired me in return, and this is what I love about the social media aspect of writing—meeting amazing new people who are talented, kind, and share the same obsession over words! Check out Z.F.’s anagrams and other blog posts at https://zfthrimej.wordpress.com/.
So our conversation got me thinking about words and how I play around with them. Sometimes one catches my attention and although it is a common word, I will question how well I really know its meaning. Over the last couple of years freedom seems to be one of those words used a lot, but what does it mean?
Janis Joplin’s lyrics above certainly have a rebellious ring to them, making me feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, ready to fly off into an adventure. Freedom is easy—all I have to do is let go. It alludes to no ties, no strings attached—the hippie movement of the 60’s. It’s simplistic and impulsive and seems as though with the shrug of the shoulders—“eh, responsibility”—we are free.
Yet it is the dictionary definition which causes me pause—really makes me think about freedom. If you look up the word there are many, many definitions. The one I felt most drawn to was #17 from dictionary.com: “Philosophy. The power to exercise choice and make decisions without constraints from within or without; autonomy; self-determination.”
But still…what does it mean? Let’s break it down.
First, let’s look at “the power to exercise choice.” The fact that there is a choice at all is important. Without a choice, freedom cannot exist. Next is “exercise” which I love because it’s a verb. It’s an action word. It means we must USE our POWER to make a choice. We can’t sit idly, waiting for someone else to make it. Or toss away the power and make no decision. Giving away our power means giving away our freedom.
Next we get to “without constraints from within or without,” with constraints meaning there are no limitations, restrictions, or repressions. No one is telling us what is right or wrong; that we can’t do it because it’s illegal; that we can’t do it because we are not capable; that we ourselves are not acting like our own worst enemy and doubting our abilities; that we are physically and financially able to achieve the choice we’ve made. We are using our power to make a choice without any interference.
Then we come to “autonomy and self-determination.” These mean independence or self-governing, and being firm in our decisions and purpose. We are in charge of ourselves and make decisions which align with our individual beliefs and goals.
Therefore, broken down and put in simpler terms, freedom means: We use our power to make a choice without interference, and with the belief we know what is best for ourselves.
I believe this is why freedom becomes complicated and debated. The definition of freedom feels individualistic. And it works really well as a way to define the rights each person should have. But what happens when it’s more than one person? When it’s a family, a community, a society, a country? People don’t agree about what should be legal or illegal, and we don’t all have the same moral compass. At some point to live with others, sacrifices and compromises must be made. And sometimes, individuals have to sacrifice personal freedom for the greater good. We are usually willing to do so when we know these freedoms will come back once the crisis is over, and if the cost is not too great—the damage not too permanent.
Since our country was founded, (ironically at the cost of freedom for the Native Americans and African Americans), the United States has tried to balance freedom. We have historically been known as the freest country in the world, giving individuals the freedom to make their own choices while also creating laws to protect individuals and maintain order. Freedom to make many choices for ourselves, but not so much that chaos ensues. We can attend whatever church or school we want, but we can’t murder our neighbor. It’s been a good balance.
But now, events over the last couple of years have created a stalemate in the debate over balancing freedom. Guns, immigration, masks, vaccines. Some say we still have plenty of freedom and are concerned over nothing, especially here in America. Others say it’s a slippery slope, and once you start giving up some freedoms it doesn’t end. Some believe we need to make sacrifices for the greater good. Others believe this time the price is too costly—the damage too permanent.
Only time will be able to tell us the outcome of this moment in history; how together we, the people, chose to use our power. The only conclusion I’ve come to is freedom is not really free, as it always comes at a cost to someone. Unless the person truly has nothing to lose.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on freedom, so please drop a comment below!