Lockdown learning: #9 Freedom is …what exactly?

A short series of 2 minute observations…

How are you feeling?

We are living with a lot of restrictions on our way of life at the moment. They arrived all of a sudden. Pubs, restaurants and coffee shops have closed. Public transport is largely deserted. Travel abroad or overnight stays are nearly impossible. Sport is highly restricted. Many things that we took for granted before are simply not possible now.

The tension is rising further as we approach the summer season and it becomes clear that we may not get our holiday – especially to foreign parts. No short burst of freedom from our routine of work, travel, home etc. It serves to underline the sense of imprisonment. Michael McIntyre captures the scale of  impact humorously  in a recent sketch.

We are more constrained – less able to please ourselves.  Our lives have diminished. We cannot do a lot of things that we were able to do in February. Our freedom – if that means doing whatever we want – has reduced. We are less free than we were.

Or are we?

When I look around, life is, in some respects, more like life in the 1970’s – air travel volumes, local traffic patterns, numbers walking, no meals out and no coffee shops. It is a lot quieter and with that some new freedoms have appeared. Things that were difficult to do before are now a lot easier or better – walking, cycling, working (without having to waste time travelling). There is less pressure on sartorial and presentational standards. More allowance for ‘where you are’ as a person.  We have more ‘time’ and less demands.

This highlights one of the funny things about being human: We live inside ourselves and perceive the outside through our senses. How we respond depends on what goes on in our minds and not solely on what is happening beyond our bodies.

So, yes, there is a narrower range of activities that we can do but freedom is first and foremost in our minds.

We can be just as ‘free’ in ourselves now as we were before but only when we own our position and our choices. That is ultimately freedom. Freedom makes a choice. It is not driven to seek the unfulfillable. It doesn’t howl at the moon. It faces reality and chooses to do from what it can do – indeed the best thing.  It adapts to make the most of the situation and chooses with wisdom.

In doing this, we take responsibility for ourselves and are as free as we can be.

But as Sigmund Freud observed, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”