Our freedom to make choices, however limited, gives us the ability to determine who we are. Without freedom of choice there can be no morality and no capacity for personal integrity. Yet many of our choices in life restrict later opportunities.
The choice of career, of a love-mate, and the decisions to have a family, to stand by a friend, or to embrace a religious faith, all limit future choices. And if we are caring human beings, we find our choices further constrained by our sense of responsibility as members of family and community.
Most of us are mature enough to recognize that freedom is impossible if we abandon responsibility. So, where do we find freedom? What is freedom, really?
The integrity of political, economic, and religious freedoms should always be a concern, and particularly so in times of crisis. However, the difficulties confronting the individual are paramount. We each find ourselves facing our own tests, and each must respond on the basis of our own sense of integrity.
In the blog and forthcoming book I will explore the difficulties we experience when seeking personal integrity in the face of civil disorder or political repression. In a time of hardship and distrust this is a vital matter.
We could try to walk away from the human crisis, but even then we would be confronted by the immediate necessities of material circumstances.
Any attempt to walk away comes at great cost, limiting our personal opportunity to grow and mature through the challenges and vitality of human relationships. Indeed, most of us find meaning in our commitments to family and friends.
Whatever our decisions, when we think about what is most important to us – in addition to our loved ones – many of us would place value on self-respect and the freedom “to be ourselves”. We prefer to explore opportunities for ourselves without interference, to have autonomy in making our own decisions, and to seek goals that we have chosen for ourselves.
Let us reflect then on what freedom means when we seek it as self-possessed individuals, and on the attitude with which we can best respond to the social fragmentation and dysfunction that confront us daily.
It may sound strange at first, but economic hardship and social disruption can actually open the way to personal honor and self-esteem, inviting us to rise to the best that we can be.
Strength of character is not delivered in a recliner. It is in meeting tests and difficulties that our identity as human beings comes more sharply into focus.
Some of you are not committed to a religious tradition. But all of us are surely able to understand this reasoning. The received guidance of religious teachings, while concerned with personal and social development and our need to hold steady in the face of crises, also sets limits to appropriate behavior and constraints on free choice.
I expect those of you who are principled but not religious will, if you value self-respect, find yourselves similarly constrained by ethical principles and your sense of dignity.
Religious or otherwise, I think it fair to say that our responses are influenced by our attitude toward life: our sense of belonging, our capacity to appreciate others, and our efforts to remain balanced and unperturbed amid the confusion and negativity that life often brings our way.
We may care about human suffering; we may wish to avoid negativity and calamity; yet our personal freedom depends upon our ability to think clearly and function effectively when the going gets tough.
This can be a daunting task.
To be free we must seek to be autonomous individuals first, whole and complete in ourselves, and then to actualize our responsibility as caring people in the real world.
We may not like the reality in which we find ourselves. Indeed, life can sometimes be nightmarish. But, free will necessitates the commitment to be free in oneself, and to respond actively, morally, rationally.
Please look for the next post on or about May 19.