The Desire for Freedom

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"I want to be free!"

Of course you do.  We desire freedom, especially when we feel it has been denied to us.  We also desire autonomy and power.  But not all the things we desire are good for us, and we frequently choose to do things we regret afterwards.  Desire, it turns out, is not a good guide for living.

The truth is, while we desire freedom, most of the things which matter to us are the result of limiting our freedom.  We desire freedom, but we desire other things more.  And we find that choosing to limit our freedom in some ways actually expands our freedom in other, more important, ways.  Also, even when choosing to limit our freedom in some way does not expand our freedom in other ways, it can make life richer, deeper and more meaningful.

So, for example: a job will limit your freedom: the employer tells you when you have to work, where you have to be, what you have to do, and how you have to do it.  There may be some flexibility in some of the details, but basically you are being paid to limit your freedom and do what you are told.  At least, a job will limit your freedom in certain ways, here and now.  But a job will give you money, which extends your freedom in other ways, and a good job will develop your skills, extend your range of experience and open up many more possibilities and opportunities in the future.

Getting married is possibly the greatest restriction of your freedom of all: choosing one person and rejecting all others - even those you have not yet met - can seem absurd to some, but that commitment - that limitation of your freedom - can bring the greatest joy and the greatest rewards of your life.  Similarly, children limit your freedom: they take your time and money and energy, they tie you down, but few people choose to live without them.

You could say that, as a human being, I am defined by the commitments I make, and by the freedoms I choose to reject.  My identity as a human being is intimately connected with the choices I have made, and by the way I decide - or fail - to honour those choices.



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  • Freedom includes the freedom to change our mind. The commitments we make are rarely irreversible. How we manage the changing of minds and the impact on others also reveals our identities.

    I am reluctant to take this revelation too far though. For two reasons. Firstly I don't acknowledge a world view that allows for complete freedom of choice, an idea I think is now recognised to be severely compromised. Secondly judging others by our own world view is seldom constructive. Seeking to understand others in the context of their world view and experience more so.


  • Are the choices we make really choices, or are they response to cultural and genetic conditioning?

    I agree that decisions we make can severely restrict options going forward. Any branch in a decision tree requires the process to sacrifice all the options offered by the unchosen branch (without knowing what they are!).  

    Perhaps a more important question is how do we deal with choices that prove to be a disastrous mistake. Like the one I made to get married to a woman.  Actually a choice that was probably a desire to conform rather than something I actually wanted.

    So making choices is always a blind thing - we cannot know what the outcome of the decision will be, and we certainly don't know what the choice will deny to us had we chosen otherwise.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

    • "Actually a choice that was probably a desire to conform rather than something I actually wanted."

      But I would guess that the desire to conform was actually an expression of something you wanted?  We all want to conform, to belong.  The trouble is, we want other things, too, and we can't have everything I want.  It is always difficult, and we don't generally get much help with learning to balance the various incompatible things we want.


    • "Are the choices we make really choices, or are they response to cultural and genetic conditioning?"

      Surely the choices I make must be a result of my experiences - culture - and genetics?  If an action was disconnected from those things, in what sense could it be my choice?  You can call it 'conditioning' if you like, but I'm not sure that term adds anything helpful to the discussion.

      Your question of how we deal with the bad choices we have made - I think that is a helpful angle to explore.  I am aiming to keep each article down to just one useful question or subject, but please create another article about that question!


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