Do you value being free?
I certainly do. Actually, it’s one of my highest values.
Do you know that feeling when you might know something intellectually for years and then bam! And you understand it viscerally, because life taught you.
This is one of those types of knowledge.
What is freedom? Is it doing whatever you want in the moment, stopping whenever you wish, going wherever you like, eating whatever you fancy, acting in any way you desire? With nobody telling you want to do or not to do?
Have you ever wished to live a cat’s life? Sleep all day, eat when you want, roam around at your leisure, get petted and play with toys.
Have you wanted to be free like a child? Play with toys and hang out with friends all day long, laugh and cry whenever you want, engage in any extracurricular activity that strikes your fancy?
I used to think that, to wish it, and indeed to aim for such freedom in my everyday life. Until I got it.
And then I began to realise something – that living in the ways described above certainly provides a form of freedom, but it does so at the expense of another form of freedom. And suddenly I had to decide which freedom I want more.
You see, the more we live the life of a childish or animal freedom, the more our bigger freedom options become diminished. Because what pets don’t have, and what children don’t ‘yet’ have is the freedom borne of discipline. Indeed, all their freedoms are granted to them by their benefactors, the owners and the parents. Their lifestyle completely depends on their benefactors. And their benefactors have almost complete control over their bigger choices.
For example, the pet can’t decide to hook up with another pet, have babies and raise them in his owner’s house. One of most pets’ prices of freedom is being castrated and giving up on procreation completely.
A child can’t decide to live in a different neighborhood, go to a better school, eat better food, go travelling or move to another country, or even to have their own room, if their parents can’t afford it, don’t want it or won’t allow it. The child’s freedom is completely limited by the benevolence, skills, abilities and freedom of the parent.
So, you might think, I am an adult! I’m not a child or a pet. I can have all the freedom they have and then some!
I certainly used to think that too.
Afraid not though. There’s still the trade-off.
As an adult, if you decide to skip brushing your teeth (because let’s be honest, who really enjoys brushing their teeth twice a day?), think not only have limited chewing options pretty soon, but limited socialising too.
If, as an adult, you decide to spend most of your money on clothes, trinkets and entertainment, then you won’t have the freedom to travel, buy a house, take care of your parents on their old age or send your child to a good school.
If, as a free adult, you decide to eat ice-cream and burgers every day, you eventually lose the freedoms that good health affords you and must become increasingly limited by illness, pain and obesity.
If you want to be free to expend as little energy as possible – to drive everywhere instead of walking, sit all day at work, then watch Netflix for hours while eating – that freedom is fine too. It does come at the cost of another freedom. If and when you do want to use your body in any way (travel, socialising, sex) you have very diminished capacity for it and a risk of injury which adds pain to the equation and reduces your freedom even more. Not to mention, the reduced freedom of partner selection, because let’s face it, you won’t be looking all that appealing to as many people either.
If, as a free adult, you want to quit working and play video games all day, or work only at half capacity, that’s a freedom too! And you pay for it with less money, aka less freedom to choose different options in life.
And finally, some people want to be an adult but to retain the childish freedoms. This means they might want to not do much productive work but still get paid a decent income, have food, shelter, entertainment, education for their children etc. That’s called communism. I escaped that. The trade-off here, unfortunately, is the same as what the child and the pet have. If somebody – an owner, a parent or a government – is providing for you, that entity will want to control your freedom, either openly or covertly. And the more you depend on it for survival, the more it will be incentivized to control you. This applies to all ‘free’ services, like YouTube and Facebook too. It always amuses me when people become indignant when they realise that Facebook is ‘manipulating’ them, addicting them, putting up ads, and in other ways tries to subtly influence their behaviour. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
So, what I realised was, by having those small pet and childish freedoms, while fun and comfortable, also makes our lives gradually smaller and smaller, until we can’t do much of anything. And for some people, that freedom is all they need in life. For some, it isn’t.
For those of us who want the big type of freedom – to go wherever we want, to do whatever we want, to travel, to take up fun activities, to be healthy and full of energy – we must trade for that freedom with discipline. And discipline is all about strategically saying ‘no’ to some of those small petty liberties sometimes, and instead saying ‘yes’ to the bigger liberty.
Edmund Burke said ‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away for expedience and by parts’. And that applies to our everyday freedom too. I look in the mirror and I ask myself, am I going to nibble at my big liberty today or am I going to cultivate it?