“Freedom isn’t the right or ability to do whatever you please. Freedom comes from understanding the limits of our own power and the natural limits set in place by divine providence. By accepting life’s limits and inevitabilities and working with them rather than fighting them, we become free.” Epictetus
How free are you?
It’s almost July 4th, the day for celebrating our freedom from tyranny and I got to thinking about how we define freedom in the 21st century. I heard the other day that in Canada if someone doesn’t use the speech pattern I want them to use, if I’m a Canadian citizen I can sue them and the case goes before the Social Justice Tribunal. If the case goes my way the defendant can lose their home and their income, their job, and even do jail time. This is going way beyond hate speech (telling someone what they cannot say). Now Canadian law is dictating what their citizens must say. So much for freedom of speech.
Epictetus offers a much different look at freedom. From his point of view freedom comes with understanding and living with the natural limits of our own power …knowing and accepting what we can and cannot control. His is the same paradigm as that of the Serenity Prayer used by the 12 Step Programs.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
Then I think of our Founding Fathers: How free were they? They fought for their freedom and ours by understanding what could and what could not be changed. They could resist the King of England and his tyrannical behaviors, but they could not change the consequences. They were willing to suffer the consequences of their resistance in order that they and their children and future generations could be free.
Real freedom starts from within. Read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and you learn he thought he was more free than his captors. They held the guns, they could beat or kill at whim, yet he, their prisoner, considered himself more free than they. How can that be?
His response: we are free to choose how we respond to any situation. Between stimulus and response there is a moment when we are free to choose our response. That is the real freedom, whether we exercise it or not.
- Shall I watch TV instead of writing my blog? My choice
- Shall I treat my clients, competition, employees with kindness and respect or anger and disrespect? My choice
- Shall I make making money with or without integrity? My choice
What isn’t my choice is the consequences that follow. If we pick up one end of the stick, we are in fact picking up the other end too. We can decide how to respond to a situation, but there is the natural result of our action.
If you think about freedom this week, how free are you?
FYI: Epictetus, around 55 A.D. to 135 A.D., was a Greek philosopher and proponent of Stoicism. Among some he is considered the Father of Stoicism.