Dear style & substance,
As June / Pride Month comes to an end and July 4th, Independence Day, is celebrated, my mind becomes centered on the idea of freedom – what it means and what each of us can do with it. Our country, really our world, now seems very divided to me – do you have any ideas how we can express ourselves freely without imposing the freedom of others and deepening the rifts?
The United States is built on freedom; Life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. In the beginning we asserted that these truths are self-evident, and the founders even went so far as to say that all human beings are created equal. Your question shows that we continue to wrestle individually and across generations with what freedom and acceptance look like. As Booker T. Washington said, “Wherever in a country the whole people feel that the happiness of all depends on the happiness of the weakest, there is freedom.”
Freedom can be defined as the human right to act, speak, think and express our thoughts; but true freedom cannot exist without thoughtful consequences of our actions and words. With freedom comes responsibility. How do we care for our true selves while respecting the rights and freedoms of others?
Oppression thrives when voices are silenced. One of the first things that are done to weaken and marginalize others is to take their voice away. From formal agreements with victims to censored press, shutting down a person’s ability to speak robs a person of freedom. Peaceful listening, no combative listening or harassed silence, let freedom flourish. When we sincerely care about another person’s experiences regardless of the differences, we begin a dialogue of deeper understanding. This can lead to a disagreement, but it is a disagreement and approach.
People who have been molested and abused are often offered money to keep quiet. Or victims are slandered and threatened so that they are afraid to speak up. The voice is the tool of freedom. The #MeToo movement created legislative changes that allow victims silenced by systemic abuse to speak. These brave people have all paved the way for others to be heard so that all can live lives of freedom and happiness in practice.
Personal exploration of this value of freedom is a start. When we look at our freest moments, what are they? Fresh air, human connection, love, exercise, and affirmation are most likely. Combine these experiences with the Golden Rule, a universal spiritual and cultural reference, put simply: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Why not offer what we value most to others, especially when we have more than enough? If we want to be heard, then we listen carefully to others, if we want to move, we give space for it, we say generously “good work” or “I’m proud of you”. When we are in the majority, you extend inclusion to someone who is in the minority. Look, listen, feel what is going on, and make a commitment to balance the situation.
When we view freedom as an infinite resource, we start with the idea of abundance, not scarcity. There is enough – freedom for all improves everyone’s living conditions; it doesn’t diminish or diminish when we offer it to others.
With freedom, people are happier, more satisfied, more creative, more productive, more self-confident and perhaps more responsible.
So what are the necessities to ensure freedom? Courtesy, structure, and sacrifice are essential. A lack of rules does not mean more freedom, but more chaos. A sense of community means thinking outside of ourselves what would be best for everyone.
“Because being free does not just mean throwing off one’s chains, but living in such a way that the freedom of others is respected and promoted.” ~ Nelson Mandela
True freedom means making room for the beliefs of others, no matter how different they may be from our own.
Sally Meisenheimer and Michele Armani are the owners of style & substance, which offer life coaching and creative solutions. Meisenheimer and Armani are certified life coaches with many years of experience in health education, personnel development and teaching. Together they have been married for more than 60 years and raised seven children. Questions and comments emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.