I know some folks that are so task-focused that, not only are they unable to see the forest for the trees, they don’t even know they are in a forest. And even though they only see the trees, they all look the same to them. They can’t seem to distinguish between any two trees as different without a great deal of coaching. It’s fine to be task-focused and to be unconcerned with the big picture, I guess, but it sure isn’t my choice.
You see, they just don’t seem to like being burdened with responsibility beyond the task at hand. It seems to me that they are finding a form of freedom. “Just tell me what you want, as specifically as possible, and let do it. Don’t expect more than that. Don’t expect me t anticipate the future or even worry about it. Just let me do what you tell me.” This attitude creates a freedom from greater responsibility, freedom from thinking too hard, freedom from all but the minimum expectations.
People like this are not leaders. They can be solid workers, reliable and sturdy, but little more than drones. But they are free from challenge, especially once they leave work. It’s a contextual freedom that works for them.
But I swear by this song
And by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”
Oh like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
-Leonard Cohen, “Bird on a Wire”
Loss can be freedom. You only truly own what you can carry with you at a dead run. Ownership ties you down and restricts your freedom. Further, responsible ownership often requires that you do maintenance activities and protection activities to care for your stuff. These things eat into your freedom.
A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!
George Carlin, “A place for my stuff“
The more stuff you own, the more you need a place to keep it. A house, an apartment, a room, a safe, dry, warm place to sleep and rest, is a good thing. Unfortunately, stuff can get in the way, stuff can take over, and then it seems a home really is just a place to keep your stuff. Stuff that ties you down. But having a safe place to keep your stuff gives you freedom, to move about, to work, to play.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,
And nothin’ left was all she left to me,
Feelin’ good was easy, Lord, when Bobby sang the blues,
And buddy, that was good enough for me.
Good enough for me and Bobby McGee.
Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee”
When you lose everything, or lose “enough” whatever that might personally be, it’s easier both to fight for freedom or to give in just to hold onto what little you have. When the conversation is about “stuff” I think this line becomes pretty clear to most people. When it is about something intangible, like freedom, it gets to be more difficult. How do you know when you’ve lost so much that there is nothing left to lose?
Love limits freedom. When you love someone, truly someone, your hands are truly tied. Freedom dissipates not only with increasing responsibility, but with loyalty and the conviction to do what’s best for the both of you (or the family). I’m not trying to suggest this is a bad thing, only that it is truth. We are bound in love to not act freely irresponsibly, or without consideration, instead are bound to the opposites. Or should be.
I’m not a river or a giant bird
That soars to the sea
And if I’m never tied to anything
I’ll never be free
I wanted magic shows and miracles
Mirages to touch
I wanted such a little thing from life
I wanted so much
I never came close, my love
We never came near
It never was there
I think it was here
Stephen Schwartz, “Finale from Pippin
“Pippin” is the story of the son of Charlemagne, Pippin, who has just graduated from the University at Padua and is lacking direction in his life. The play is a series of vignettes of Pippin trying to find himself. At the end, he is living on a farm, in love with a widow with a small boy. Throughout he gone to extremes attempting to find glory in war, importance in royalty, and joy in in hedonism, and ultimately fe finds love. He finally rejects temptation offered him to step into fire a become a glorious light himself, if only for a few moments. At the end he is asked:
Pippin:do you feel that you’ve compromised?
Do you feel like a coward?
How do you feel:?
which isn’t too bad for the end of a musical comedy. Ta da!
Pippin, Stephen Schwartz.
This is probably the ideal for relationship: happy and trapped. It’s in this perspective that we recognize (or should) that our choices are constrained in order to allow happiness, to cause happiness, for who (or those) we love. The constraints are by choice as we give up our freedoms willingly. (Although, it can be argued that falling in love is not necessarily a voluntary process, but rather a biochemically-induced form of temporary insanity that allows relationships to form, and lead to breeding; but when I say that, I find people get really upset and reactionary). Anyhow, most will agree that when love is present, we stay in relationships willingly. It’s a choice, perhaps a daily choice, that restricts some freedoms, but I think opens up more.
Love opens us up to being truly vulnerable. It is easier to show ourselves as vulnerable when we are with someone we trust, someone that we know loves us. The freedom to be vulnerable can be compelling, once one learns how. (Once I learned how.) This can be especially true in times of stress and worry. When this happens, it seems to open up the conversation to allow more effective communication. In other words, the vulnerability allowed in love creates greater freedom to communicate.
It seems to me as so many people prattle on about their imagined freedoms and many more others just seek to be acknowledged, to be equal, the economic and social structure in which we live is impressively organized to encourage us to limit our desire for responsibility and personal growth, to acquire stuff , and have relationships, all of which reduce freedom and create constraints.
Living freely, but comfortably, is about learning to live within constraints. To be truly free, disappear into the woods with no more than you can carry, and drift from place to place. See how much you like it. Not many do. They want permanent shelter. They want comfort, multiple tools to make mundane tasks easier and briefer, temperature control, food storage. The list goes on.
Heaven knows I was just a young boy
Didn’t know what I wanted to be
I was every little hungry schoolgirl’s pride and joy
And I guess it was enough for me
To win the race? A prettier face!
Brand new clothes and a big fat place
On your rock and roll TV
But today the way I play the game is not the same
Think I’m gonna get me some happy
-George Michael, “Freedom”
Real freedom is freedom from pain. Freedom to move. Freedom to love who you love. Freedom from seeing your love in pain and disarray. Freedom to be recognized as human.
Freedom is also not being owned and constrained by belief systems that devalue others. Such beliefs are just a heavy set of chains that reduce one’s freedom to find happiness as they create false limits for relationships and the possibilities of love. Relationships drive all things, all successful commerce, why constrain their potentialities with dumbass beliefs?
Freedom is knowing the limits of freedom and accepting them with grace.