In Pursuit of Freedom

Freedom implies no limits, liberty and self determination – but equality and freedom are not synonymous. We can put legislation in place to promote equality but trying to making rules around freedom contradicts the very nature of the concept. As soon as there are rules, there are boundaries and restrictions. Fear that everything will dissolve into chaos if nobody follows rules may be what prevents people from being truly limitless. We strive for freedom, even go to war to defend it, but we also make rules, police and punish because we don’t like the choices others make. This suggests that we cannot handle equal freedom of choice and what we really yearn for is personal safety, a sense of predictability and to be treated fairly. If we can coach youngsters to see freedom as an attitude rather than a condition and to question their own assumptions about the world they live in they may become better equipped to live in a democracy.

Were we ever truly free? The fortunate in society may be able to choose where to live, what car to drive, who to marry and whether to have children or not, but each choice comes with a counterweight of responsibility and stress. When we need to make big decisions we struggle with the fear of taking the wrong turn and the unavoidable sacrifice that accompanies the fork in the road. When life turns sour people often blame others, finding it hard to own the part they played in choosing that bumpy path. Sometimes life seems to deny us any choice at all when it strikes us with illness, sterility, redundancy and natural disasters.

We like to believe we were free to be anything we wanted to be at the moment of our birth. However, our genes had already assigned many traits such as gender, skin colour, cognitive potential and body type. The family we were being born into had also predetermined our socio-economic status, geographical location and religious affiliation. Every one of these pre-selected factors places immediate limits and challenges on our person due to the prejudices and values of the local and global society at the time.

Individuals, nations and institutions decide what is acceptable or unacceptable and use these opinions to create value-laden rules to judge and discipline the behaviour of others. At a specific point in time these views seem like solid facts however, from a historical perspective, belief systems are fluid. Our personal attitudes and stereotyped views are like the bars to our own cages. A place where we feel safe, life is predictable and events are easily explained. When we draw a line between what we see as good or bad some of our fellow citizens may already live on the other side by virtue of their race group, talents, sexual orientation or political views. As long as our own minds cannot accept that all beings have an individual life-path to follow and that all paths are created equal we remain boxed in a restricted worldview and will never be free.

Gaining freedom from limiting attitudes is a long walk for anyone. Today we celebrate because there were those who took on a greater cause and made a global impact. They succeeded in transforming laws, liberating minds and changed the birth climate for the benefit of all future generations. It took struggle and sacrifice to open a door to our freedom and many citizens still battle to find their way through. Bars of resentment, guilt or fear hold them back. It can feel safer to stay with the opinions we have always held than take the next brave step and embrace change. In the twilight of his great life show your children that the same love, admiration and grief for Madiba is reflected in the eyes of all our peoples so we can become united in this sameness.

Maybe all human beings really have is freedom of choice over how to react NEXT and this is where we get to be free. Free to simultaneously be and to become ourselves. We are one of the rare species to be gifted with self-awareness. Nurture self-awareness in children by coaching them to step back and observe the present moment without being overwhelmed with emotions. Instead of expecting them to learn facts encourage them to ask questions and to wonder where the information came from. Instead of pressure to always make the right choice give them back their freedom to make a mistake. If we punish a first wrong turn children will not learn anything other than to fear making mistakes. Rather help them to notice what they did without judgment and, if need be, place a consequence on a repeat offence. Because it is not so important what they do as what they do next.

It is not just coincidence that many great door-openers in history loved the company of children as they turn the tables on us adults when it comes to knowing freedom. Young children approach the world with a sense of wonder and an open, curious mind that is still unafraid to ask questions. They have not yet absorbed all the prejudices of society and don’t struggle to see others as their equal. They have not forgotten how to play, with spontaneity and no specific goal in mind. This ‘free’ state of mind is proven to be an ideal brain state for both stress release and problem solving. Today, allow yourself some freedom. Dissolve a boundary, get out of your cage and go and play.

Written by Sheryl Maastrecht. Educational Psychologist in private practice. EAST LONDON South Africa
Published in Saturday Dispatch 2013-04-27

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