Public Freedom, Private Freedom

Freedom, part 3

Public freedom
Freedom is about relationship. My seven-year-old self in front of a mirror, in the grip of wonderment about an idea, was playing out a relationship through ideas with my father. My eleven-year-old self, running, yelling down the hall on the last day of school, was swimming in a joyful shared celebration with his friends and classmates. It was our togetherness that made it freedom.

Private freedom
The freedom of mindfulness lies in the more direct relationship with the people and things of the moment, less filtered through preconceived purposes. The freedom of working with others for a shared cause certainly lies in that relationship, but even the freedom of the loose cannon tenured professor is, if it is worthy of the name freedom, about bringing her idiosyncratic pursuits to a relationship with students that – while observing the appropriate boundaries – is also deeply intimate. Love is both cause and result of true and free teaching.
“I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself alone.” (Thomas Merton)
Freedom is about relationship. Some of the Quotations from this month's issue of On the Journey illustrate.

There’s Clarence Darrow saying, “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.”

And Audre Lorde writes, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.”

And Rosa Parks, who saw the purpose for her struggle for freedom in the freedom of others: “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free so other people would be also free.”

And Barack Obama, in his speech accepting his party’s nomination at the 2012 convention, declared: “A freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”

Freedom is about relationship. Freedom is something we make together. This was the lesson of the Passover story: no Hebrew walked out of Egypt alone. Nor could any have survived the wilderness alone. Freedom is a collective enterprise. We need each other to be free. Yes, there is necessary work only you can do. And part of our collective work is ensuring greater opportunity for individuals to engage in projects of self-creation, heeding their own inner and private call. Protecting the spaces of privacy and aloneness in which a person can give birth to herself is itself a collective enterprise – requiring, for example, great libraries where your solitary discovery of obscure texts that seem to speak to you alone enrich the uniqueness you can then bring to the world.

This is the public work of facilitating private self-creation, and that is what freedom looks like.

Aside from the labors of self-creation, there is also other necessary work: the work of shoring up our democratic institutions, securing the rights that we all need, protecting freedom of speech and press, guarding the independence of the judiciary, honoring the findings of science even when we don’t like them, providing social safety nets and lifting our neighbors from poverty. This work we can only do together and publicly; it is done with shared touchstones of value rather than unique and idiosyncratic fascinations. The public and joint creation of US, and the private and individual creation of ME are the dual, equally necessary, projects of creating freedom.

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This is part 3 of 3 of "Freedom"
See also
Part 1: A Feeling. Mostly.
Part 2: Things That Feel Like Freedom

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