“Why can’t I have freedom to do what I want?” complained my eight-year-old grandson when he was asked to perform a task given him. “There are too many rules and duties,” he whined further.
One of my goddaughters at age 16 complained and said she couldn’t wait to go to college in order to have freedom from the restrictions imposed on her by well-meaning parents. “I want to be free from duties; free from beliefs and our culture,” she whined.
Little do the children of today know that there is no pure and perfect freedom. They will grow to realize that in order for them to pursue “freely” what they want in life, they will have to make choices that come with a set of rules and limitations and consequences to their actions. They will learn that the definition of a free society is not where people are free to do what they wish, but it is one in which they freely choose to surrender certain behaviors in exchange for the benefits of living within that society.They will learn that freedom requires sacrifice. It requires an understanding that certain rules are necessary to create a society in which people of different skills and ideas work together in a mutually beneficial exchange. They will have to become citizens who will find a way to balance or reconcile their civic duties with the personal yearnings of their spirit.
When we are children, our parents impose our schedule, duties and the rules we must live by. Our possible choices are limited, and our beliefs and goals often come with a cultural inclination from parents and family members. As children, we often lack self-mastery; we have poor impulse-control and we are required to take ownership of our actions. Then one day, we turn 18, graduate from high school, and perhaps leave home and go off to college, ridding ourselves (or so we think) of the cultural rules. We are pretty much free to do anything we’d like except violate societal rules and the law. We can party all night, sleep in and be free from well meaning rules. We may fail, stumble and fall, and we learn further that our actions have consequences. We learn quickly that freedom to do what we want doesn’t mean we’re free from the repercussions of those choices. We choose our actions, and with those, for better or worse, we must take ownership and responsibility for our freedom to choose. Today’s children will soon learn that the really important kind of freedom involves developing an understanding of how one thinks, being able to speak one’s mind, to be fearless, to be tolerant and to be conscious of the needs of others. It requires attention and awareness and discipline, and being able to care truly about other people (society) and to sacrifice for them over and over in countless petty, unappealing ways, every day, while achieving their goals.
Yesterday, when I was younger, freedom was not a notion I considered unless it was free time/play time where I could run the streets of my childhood home. I was dutiful. If my mother expected me to make the coffee after lunch, I made coffee. If it was expected of me to wash dishes, I washed dishes. If it was cleaning day, I helped clean house. If I brought in stray pets, I was expected to take care of them. I did what was expected of me, whether I wanted to or not.
However, being dutiful got me through childhood, then college. Dutiful accompanied me in balancing priorities while making life choices. Dutiful bound me to my roots. Dutiful impressed on me to care about children, the elderly, society and those around me. Today, freedom is a notion I understand as I dutifully serve the yearnings of my spirit. I am free to spend time with loved ones; help others, practice my faith, be fearless in the truth. I am free to be in a steady, unyielding relationship that works when we spend time together or apart. I am free to speak my mind, to make choices and dutifully take ownership of the consequences. Freedom also means wrapping my hands around a steaming mug of coffee while I watch waves lapping the shore. It means staying up late into the night to indulge my pleasures and still waking up early the following morning to perform duties. Freedom means putting words on paper for no other reason than because it makes my heart sing.
After all the whining and complaining, I’m blessed with the tools gifted to me by well meaning parents who got me there, to where I manage my freedom to serve the yearnings of my spirit.