Update : I won the first prize for this essay at the competition. Details are here.
Today it is the 65th Independence day of India, what better day to put up this essay I wrote for a competition some time back.
Freedom does not mean license, but the wisdom to choose what is right for oneself
“If you are not free to choose wrongly and irresponsibly, you are not free at all” - Jacob Hornberger
Different people understand freedom in different ways, for some freedom means the ability to make your own choices, for others it means the idea of no responsibility for their actions. The quote by Jacob Hornberger about freedom may resonate with many people specially those living in the more liberal societies of Western world. The ability of choice is a notion triumphed by the western society where freedom is equated with our choice to do anything, even the morally or ethically wrong thing and act irresponsibly. Then the question may be what the morally or ethically right thing to do is? Doesn’t each individual have a right to his own moral system and lead his life based on judgements from his own wishes. Whatever idea of freedom that you think about you should remember that your own freedom should not conflict with the freedom of others; this basic principle ensures that we do not fall in anarchy and some order is maintained in the world.
Thus, we see that the idea of freedom as a way or license to do anything cannot be ideal, since we do not live as individuals but in a society and we need to respect the freedom of others as well. So where should we draw the line, how much freedom do we let go and to whom? When we are not old enough usually our freedom is defined by our parents and we are bound to follow them. So if you think of the Jacob’s definition of freedom as modern materialistic ideal of what freedom in its widest sense means you realize that at every stage of life you have to give away little bits of freedom in order to have a system that works and people do not end up fighting till chaos. So the question now changes to who do you give away your freedom to, to your parents, your elders, your neighbours, your society, your government or your country.
Why is it that any workable system of affairs (even democracy) is at the end successful because the society as a whole and individuals themselves let go of certain aspects of their freedom in order to make it consistent with others freedom. To put it in other words, is it because we are not wise enough to know our well-being that some external entity has to enforce rules in order for us to survive. And if that is the case then what does freedom really mean? Isn’t freedom then connected to our wisdom to do the right thing? The following quote by Albert Camus alludes to this interpretation of freedom
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better” - Albert Camus
Our wisdom to choose the right path is what makes our freedom useful, unless we can decide what is good for us as well as the rest of humanity, we cannot be totally free. So we are free as long as we act responsibly and follow the righteous path. From a totally materialist ideal interpretation of Jacob we have now come at the more realist interpretation of Albert, where we look at freedom as a chance or opportunity for us to be better at whom we are, to evolve from a totally individualistic approach of life to a selfless approach where the path you choose is right for your own definition of rightness and does not conflict with the paths of others. This happens without any external agencies, with people looking at their freedom as ways of growing individually and striving towards human perfection. To some this may seem as the whole notion of freedom is lost, not only do you need to give away your freedom in order to maintain order and happiness in the world but also you need to work continuously on yourself in order to be a better person. Indeed the following quotation from my spiritual guru summarizes this idea.
“True Freedom is Freedom from Freedom itself” - Chariji
There can be true freedom only when there is no idea of freedom itself, it may seem like a contradiction but if you understand the meaning of freedom in spiritual terms where the only freedom you have is to continuously evolve yourself into a better human being, you really don’t have any choice otherwise. In other words, the sole purpose of our lives is to achieve human perfection (or god realization) and that is the real freedom. In the spiritual interpretation of freedom there true freedom is the freedom from freedom itself, where you are no longer bound by the ideas of choices, moral judgements and norms of society. You really and truly are free.
By means of these three interpretations of the simple idea of freedom we can see that one can consider freedom in the purely material terms where you are free to do whatever you wish without regards to any rules or consider it in more spiritual terms where true freedom actually has no notion of freedom. Sadly the youth of today works only at the first interpretation where they feel it is their right to choose as they like, be it studies, relations, bad habits etc. There is specially a tendency to try everything good, bad or ugly before deciding and choosing for oneself if it is a right thing to do.
What we need to really understand is that freedom doesn’t give you license to act irresponsibly, but it expects wisdom on your part to use it to the best extent. Deciding what is right for one is not easy but that is where we can count on the experience of others to guide us and help us in taking our decisions. Freedom guided with experience and exercised with responsibility leads to the progress of an individual, society and ultimately the entire nation.