What do I know of freedom? I spent decades chasing stone lovers and mirages of happiness, dutifully onward like an ox yoked to its fate.
We are chained more often by things that can’t be seen. Different masters conspire to enslave you: loss, guilt, flaws, doubts, twisted memories of a better past, seductive fantasies of a better future. You aren’t as free as you believe. All the failures and fears we can’t escape accompany us like wardens in the prison yard of our minds. Whenever distraction, public opinion, or weakness decides your course of action, you aren’t as free as you believe.
History doesn’t hold the only understanding of freedom. Textbooks tricked us into seeing freedom as a simple status, a title conferred by a state. Freedom is more personal than any slogan or legislation can convey. If freedom were merely a tool of society and not an inherently human experience, its history would not be bloodstained. You’re more familiar with the fight for freedom than you know.
The blood that stains the history of freedom was spilled in the first round so you could reach the next.
No human will ever be purely free. In anarchy, man must still rule himself, and any escape from nature’s rule is a temporary reprieve. Pure freedom may be found only in death, where nothing is required of you because you are nothing. Free people must still fight for freedom because freedom not earned is borrowed. All borrowed things must eventually be returned. Inherited freedom is always in danger of being misunderstood by generations that treat freedom like a dust-gathering trophy upon a shelf — once won, now collected. Nothing is stagnant; the dead decompose, the stone rolls and shifts its shape. Human inventions — rights and freedom — are eternally shifting along with the societies that invent and apply them. What a society doesn’t use is lost in time. The perpetual battle for freedom follows its own hierarchy of needs; freedom threatened externally supersedes freedom threatened internally. The ex-prisoner is no longer at the mercy of a warden, but of his own whims. When external freedom is secure, the question isn’t whether freedom is had, but of what will be done with that freedom. You inadvertently ask yourself the question of what you’ll do with your freedom every day, every moment.
You’re free to pursue the life you desire, so what life is it that you desire? You’re free to move, you’re free to speak, so where will you go and what will you say?
The absence of freedom is often more comforting than its abundance. The absence of freedom instantly defines you and your world; the rules and goals are clear. The abundance of freedom is the dizziness of being lost in a field, with every direction an equally possible and equally opaque path forward. Is the desire for being dictated down a single, obvious path so strange after all? There’s security in being ruled by another. The reward of struggling for your own answers when ready-made directions offer certainty is obscured most to those with no taste for freedom.
To be a free person is to rule yourself. Is the glaring stranger in the grocery store, the disinterested partner, the incompetent boss, or the corrupt leader deserving of the power to dictate?
You may not be in chains, but you can be enslaved by others in how you feel, what you think, or what you do if the ultimate influence upon you is not you.
In a free society, share your rule with equals, but never submit to undeserving leaders. The doubts, the failures, the fears, and the loneliness — all elements of life made tolerable with the freedom to flavour them as you choose. Better to fear and fail in a life of your choosing than at the command of another.
But what do I know of freedom? I’ve bitten my tongue and run for most of my life. And still, the mistakes were all mine, scarring me in ways that are equally mine. Are we the sum of all that’s left unscathed in the end, like carved marble, or are we the outcome of every new mark and mistake, like an oil painting? We choose our burdens — that is our freedom.
Text: Salomé Sibonex