Freedom – a sermon


Freedom is the right to do what you want to do.  This may sound like the devil’s definition of freedom.  But it isn’t.

Every human being is free to do whatever he/she wants to do.  Of course, you’ll have to face the consequences of what you do.  If you jump the red light at the traffic signal you may have to pay a fine.  But you are free to jump the red light and I’ve seen hundreds of drivers (especially 2-wheeler riders) in Delhi exercising this freedom.  We are aware of thousands of people exercising their freedom in innumerable ways that may be considered wrong or evil by us.  For example, acts of violence, theft, terrorism, corruption of all sorts… the list is endless.  Over six billion people on the earth are exercising their freedom in their own ways.

If everyone exercises his/her freedom in the ‘right’ way, the world would have been a very orderly place, a paradise.  But that’s not the case and so we have an infinite number of laws to control our freedom. 

But are the laws controlling our freedom or are they controlling our desires/wants/impulses?

Freedom is a positive and good thing.  It opens up innumerable opportunities to us to exercise our potential and achieve what we want to achieve.

The problem is NOT with freedom.  The problem is with what we WANT.  Freedom does not create chaos; human wants create it.

Why does the biker jump the red light?  He has to reach his destination quickly for a valid reason or he is in a hurry because everyone else seems to be in a hurry or he has to outsmart others or … The reasons have nothing to do with freedom.  The reasons are all about some particular want of his.  The strength of his want, the strength of its motivation, determines the way he exercises his freedom.  His choice of how he exercises his freedom may be right or wrong.  It is the choice that is right or wrong, not freedom.

What prompts us to make a choice?  That is the crucial question. 

What we want motivates our choices in life.  And our wants are determined fundamentally by two things: our genetic make-up and the inputs from our environment.  Environment means our society, the political system, religion, institution where we work or study, family, and so on.  What we have inherited genetically cannot be modified much.  The choices we make are pre-determined to the extent of the role played by our genes in making the choice.  The choices are also pre-determined to quite some extent by the inputs we received from our environment.  Our personality determines our wants and our personality is largely a construct of our genes and the environmental inputs.  But we can modify the inputs of the environment.

Let us take an example to understand this better.  Derry is a young boy.  As far as his genetic make-up is concerned he is just another average boy.  But he has a problem created by his environment.  One side of his face is burnt by acid.  The scar makes him feel terribly inferior.  He thinks he is ugly.  He has heard people commenting about his “terrible” appearance.  The inputs from the environment makes him a recluse.  He chooses to hide himself from people.  He sees himself as unlovable.  Until he meets an old man called Lamb.  Mr Lamb makes Derry realise that his choices need not be circumscribed by other people’s opinions.  That he is FREE to make his own choices.  That he can choose to ignore other people and start living his life on his own terms.  Derry’s personality changes.  His choices change.  He discovers happiness.

Freedom is about choices.  Our choices may be determined to some extent by external factors.  But to a very great extent it is we ourselves who make the choices. 

The quality of our choice will depend on how close it is to the welfare of our own being, our self. 

Every normal human being endeavours to further his/her own welfare.  More often than not, we perceive our welfare according to the standards determined by our environment.  For example, the biker at the red light thinks he will appear smart before the others if he jumps the light.  Or he thinks he has a ‘right’ or ‘duty’ to be ahead of the others.  Wanting to outsmart others, wanting to be ahead of the others… are all ‘wants’ determined by a wrong perception.  Actually the biker is not furthering his own welfare; he is putting it at a great risk – the risk of being run over by another vehicle, (or the risk of running over somebody else, which is also indirectly related to the welfare of oneself).

The highly competitive and acquisitive environment in which we live affects our way of thinking so much that we think life is all about outsmarting the others and possessing a lot of things or positions or power or something else.

And we make our choices accordingly.

After a lot of outsmarting and acquisition we remain unhappy. 

Because we did not actually achieve the real freedom, the freedom to be ourselves.  We did not make the right choice.  So we ended up in bondage to something external to us.  As Derry remained in bondage to others’ opinions.  As the terrorist remains in bondage to some tenets of his religion.  As the corrupt politician remains in bondage to wealth or power (or both). 

“What a man can be, he must be,” said psychologist Abraham Maslow.  Otherwise a terrible discontent will descend on him.  And he will keep groping for happiness in wrong places just as a drunkard or drug addict keeps searching for happiness in his wine or drug. 

Real freedom is choosing to become what you are capable of becoming.  If you make that choice, you will soon discover that you don’t need to outsmart anyone and that you don’t need to acquire so much.  You will also discover that, more often than not, the rules and regulations don’t stand in your way anymore, rather they help you to reach your destination more effectively. 

Real freedom offers you the real conquest.

About matheikal

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2 Responses to Freedom – a sermon

  1. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    I see freedom as of two distinct types – one, the permission to do what one wants, and two, the inability of others (mostly the state) to interfere in what one wants to do. Your post focuses on the first, almost to the exclusion of the other.

    It is in the context of the second, the so-called negative freedoms, that I find Abraham Maslow’s statement., “What a man can be, he must be,” not very useful.

    My two cents worth.

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • matheikal says:

      Raghuram, this post is about individual freedom. When it comes to a group, society or organisation, it will be quite a different matter.

      Secondly, one of the many criticisms levelled against Maslow was that his view was too idealistic. After all, this post is labelled “sermon” not for nothing!

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