Defining Personal Freedom
In last article we have defined self improvement and promised to define another crucial concept that we will be exploring on this site, personal freedom. The topic of freedom is usually considered to be very complex, which may be true, but I would also accept the possibility that it is in fact simple, but easily misunderstood.
In either case this article is an attempt to provide a good definition as a solid starting point for the discussion of personal freedom and it's achievement and/or preservation and its role in the process of personal development.
The word "personal" is prevalently associated with everything that relates to a person which is a totality of who and what you are where "who" represents your personality or self and "what" represents your physical nature as a human being.
The word "freedom" is used in many contexts and prevalently seems to refer to one of the following:
- 1. Lack of compulsion, coercion or restraint by a human.
- 2. Lack of a necessity, inability or other natural constraints.
The first is the kind of freedom that people tend to most talk about and pursue as a cause. It is the freedom of one human from another, but also the freedom of yourself from your own compulsions. The second kind is more about the natural state of the universe, including yourself as a part of it, with all the laws by which it operates. To achieve more "freedom" in the second sense is to conquer more of nature. It is what scientists and technologists are all about.
It is the first kind of freedom that we will refer to when speaking of personal freedom however, the freedom from human compulsion or coercion. The word "personal" makes a particular distinction here which makes the freedom in question specifically relative to the person; it depends on that person. Personal freedom then is up to you and not somebody else. It therefore refers to freedom from compulsions that you bring upon yourself.
Self Inflicted Compulsions
These compulsions arise through a variety of processes. Some may have developed in early formative ages of childhood as a result of particular styles of parenting or particularly traumatic experiences. Others may have developed as a result of cultural upbringing and the desire to fit in to certain social and cultural norms. And sometimes they may arise due to particular genetic inheritance or certain biological or neurological problems. These compulsions are usually of emotional nature and sometimes reside deep into the subconscious mind, thus remaining undetectable without deep introspection or psychotherapy. Yet they "make you" do certain things or react in certain ways which you would rather not, as if you aren't in control.
Now I'm no expert on these matters nor should what I say be taken as more than an independent philosophical exploration pursued in hopes of coming up with useful ideas and information, but it seems clear that these compulsions present a major obstacle to a process of self improvement, if such process is desired and pursued. Much of these compulsions come down to certain deep rooted habits that are hard to get rid of yet which prevent a person from moving forward towards a goal that (s)he may have set out for self.
Personal freedom is therefore a necessary requirement for successful self improvement and personal growth. If you have a vision of your better self, of who you would truly love to be, yet find it very difficult to actually get there because you almost automatically always revert to behavior that defines what you currently are and which you may be unhappy with, you are lacking in personal freedom. In order to free yourself you would need to identify which of the compulsions are keeping you from making real change and then strive to free yourself from them.
A person with maximum of personal freedom may be able to override a lack of freedom from other people's coercion as well. If they are, for instance, threatened violence if they do not hand over a particular sum of money to a robber, instead of automatically succumbing to fear and panic quickly handing the money they may remain calm knowing that even such situations are ones not lacking in personal choice. As such they may be able to detect opportunities or signs they otherwise could not. Maybe the robber doesn't sound too threatening or convincing - maybe he isn't capable of actually making good on his threat - maybe if you refuse he will just walk away.
In any case, even if you choose to give him the money, as a person of such high level of personal freedom you would know that the decision to give the money was your own choice, the best choice you could make given the circumstance you evaluated. He may have took your money, but he didn't take your personal freedom. He didn't make you afraid. This gives you a sense of power and serenity.
There are many other examples of how personal freedom gives you a kind of personal power. Being who you wish to be regardless of what others think of it, believing something on the basis of your own rational thought regardless of what somebody told you to believe, doing something you think is right regardless of how many people may abhor it. In a way, freeing yourself from your own compulsion is the first crucial step towards freeing yourself from potential servitude to others. Not only that, but it allows you to become a living example of what you may wish others or the world to be. You may, as Gandhi suggested, "be the change you want to see in the world".
In the next article I will be defining exactly that, social change, after which we will embark on a journey of exploration of all of the nuances of these important concepts, some of which have been brought up in these defining articles. The idea is to help each other grow and see just how far we could go in personal liberation and empowerment.