Defining Freedom: Five Key Ways We Express & Abuse It…
Protecting Our Freedom: Five We Must Never Give Up…
“Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Freedom means the opportunity to be what we never thought we would be.” Daniel Boorstin
Most law-abiding people, especially those who live in democratic societies, where laws and protections prevail, rarely think about the notion of freedom. They take it for granted because they already have it and until someone or something happens that impinges on their freedom, it is never a consideration. In the USA, the Bill of Rights gives us certain inalienable rights and it is our prerogative to protect or abuse it.
For people who live under oppressive governments or in restrictive environments; those in prison or living under abject poverty and other forms of restrictions, the idea of gaining freedom is a constant thought; as close as our breath. Yet, as I mull over this, I recognize that we can only miss freedom if we know what it looks like or if we have experienced it. Unless you realize you are living under oppressive conditions, how could you protest? Sure, exposure to mass media helps .. only if you have access to it. In some of the poorest parts of our world, a radio is a luxury.
There is a third category of people who feel neither bound by apparent restrictions or limited by rules because they have transcended our human notion of freedom. They function in a space beyond our everyday comprehension and are in a state of Zen; a spiritual awareness of being one with God; in union with all things.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Thomas Jefferson. In memory of the lives lost on 9/11… Prayers and Blessings to All.
This week’s prompt is: Define “Freedom”. As I thought about this Thursday’s assignment, I envisioned a subject that, like an eagle, soars above and beyond our simple definitions and flies with wings in many directions; indefatigable, digging deep for new meanings.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers a multi part definition of the word Freedom. The main one being: Freedom is the quality or state of being free; the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. It also suggests that: Freedom has a broad range of applications from total absence of restraint to merely a sense of not being unduly hampered or frustrated.
In civil societies, our freedom is only guaranteed if we obey the rules of law and stay within the confines of acceptable behavior. Anytime we step outside that fine line/norm, we risk being held in contempt of the status quo. Think about it; are we truly free to express our idiosyncrasies anywhere or anytime? Probably not. Over the years, there have been brave souls who stood firm in their beliefs and that is how new laws, creative expression, religious and political freedoms and more were achieved… However, the journey is often strewn with casualties; the bodies of the flag bearers of every important movement. The norm for the rest of us has been a freedom that is measured, tied to obligations and expectations — never totally free.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of action are meaningless without freedom to think. And there is no freedom of thought without doubt.” Bergen Evans
So what are the five ways we express and lose our freedom?
When I first wrote this piece, I looked at it through the lens of the Bill of Rights; an American perspective. Upon reflection, I recognized that the five freedoms below are not a universal construct but rights available to Americans. In other parts of the world, the five freedoms or the fight for them might look somewhat different; economic freedom, freedom of movement, educational freedom, freedom to choose over a variety of complex cultural mandates, political and personal freedoms… the list is endless. How would people from other cultures interpret the freedoms/liberties below? Are they as ubiquitous as we think?
Freedom of Expression/Speech: We use our freedom of speech to uplift and sometimes malign others. The ability to speak our mind without fear of reprisal is one to be cherished. However, we must treat that right as sacrosanct and refrain from abusing it by engaging in vicious attacks against those whose views we don’t share. Freedom of expression includes our right to creative endeavors in music, arts, and other forms of entertainment. When we express ourselves creatively and for the highest good, it is a soothing balm that brings people together and heals. Even this freedom has it limitations … unpopular opinions, even when true, are not appreciated in certain circles; our words co-opted by our political and professional allegiances.
Inevitably, there are those who use it (speech) to spread hate and fear… When lines are crossed, we enter the realm of defamation; libelous (the written) and slanderous (the spoken) words. When we attack others maliciously, our language ceases to be complimentary or wise, it becomes poisonous venom sprayed on our opponent. A lawsuit and a restraining order puts a muzzle on those who feel compelled to talk carelessly … and ostracism is the lot of those who choose to speak the truth in the face of company sanctioned lies.
We often hear or read the line that “You can’t legislate people’s thoughts.” True. Freedom of speech opens a false door for us to believe we can say whatever we want; it doesn’t dictate what we say or interfere with our ability to think. We can think and say what we like as long as those thoughts and words aren’t deemed offensive or don’t become harmful actions. What internal triggers stops us from crossing the line and why?
Freedom of Religion: This is self-explanatory, yet many forget that the freedom we enjoy is a right for everyone else too. Religious extremists tend to ignore the rights of others to practice their beliefs and they barrel on as if all other faiths are irrelevant. This right is inherent to all religious traditions, and we ought to respect every individual’s right to practice their beliefs.
The same passion I bring to my beliefs is no different than that shared by someone of another religious persuasion. When we abuse religious freedoms, we impugn the ability of others to pursue their faith, and we perpetuate violence where peace should reign. If we look around the areas of conflict in the world today, religious intolerance plays a role in feeding the fires of petty hatreds and war. What stands in the way of common sense?
George Michael – Freedom
Freedom of the Press: The press has a huge responsibility to speak truth to power and represent our collective needs through that medium. People depend on information disseminated from our press/the media and there is an expectation that it is fair and objective. This is not always the case and we all know of news reports that are biased, incomplete and inaccurate. The internet has made it both difficult and easy to ascertain the merits of a story. Spin masters and bloggers have added another dimension to what we might gingerly call the truth. News moves fast and the stories change rapidly… fact and fiction blurs; we hope we are hearing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the whole damn truth.
Celebrities and others have sued media outlets that invaded their privacy or shared false stories and the penalties can be huge. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to deter certain elements of the media that continue this practice of spreading false stories. Why? Because there are publishers that continue to bankroll the purveyors of celebrity news. Fortunately, there are multiple sources of news and we can pick and choose who/what we want to hear. The key is to check multiple sources before confirming the veracity of a story.
“You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Malcolm X
Freedom of Association/Assembly: The right to congregate and meet over common issues of interest is an important right because it allows political parties, congregations, clubs, and people with common concerns to form or find a forum for their cause. It can be a powerful tool for the activists amongst us; serving as a way to rally people behind a cause. Naturally, there are those who use the right of assembly to propagate hate and fear. They create associations that abuse the rights of others or that disseminate false information.
The freedom of association/assembly also includes freedom of movement without being/feeling policed. Sadly, people in marginalized communities do not fully enjoy this freedom because their neighborhoods are considered unsafe and are therefore heavily supervised. We have all read newspaper articles of random searches and other abuses. When we look around our communities, are all groups treated equitably and freely? These prejudicial patterns can be stopped with more education and a clear headed approach to conflict resolution.
Freedom of Choice to Protect Self/Right to Bear Arms: This is a freedom that should make sense yet there are issues around the right to bear arms. We are free to protect our loved ones from harm and to choose how we exercise those rights. However; the area of contention arises from the right to bear arms; especially by criminal elements and those who might not choose to use it safely. Again, when people use their right to intimidate others or commit crimes, they are no longer acting to protect their loved ones. Their intent is to abuse others and the consequences can lead to additional restrictions and possible jail time.
At the end of the day, we are only as free as we are allowed to be; within the confines of the law… According to Article 21 of the Constitution, – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. We won’t be deprived until we break the law; so we learn social mores that help us avoid the kinds of behavior that could make us lose our freedoms. Our human freedom is based on conditions. While spiritual freedom can seemingly transcend all others, we still operate from a human realm bound by laws and therein lies the quandary. Our freedoms can be enjoyed or denied… the choice isn’t always ours to make.
What are your thoughts? Which is the most important freedom of them all? If you had to give up a freedom, which one would you give away? Do share. Thank you!
Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©