Standing at the top of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, while everyone else was looking up at the grand Lady, I was looking down at her shadow. I was struck by how many freedoms I am blessed to have. At the same time, I realized that there may also be a down side to having all this liberty. Can liberty itself be oppressive? Can having so much latitude of choice and action present one with its own unique set of problems? Is having freedom and exercising freedom the same thing? Is the freedom to DO what one wants the same as the freedom to BE what one wants?
My mother jumped off the truck that was taking her to the gas chambers in the middle of Auschwitz. Given very little liberty, she exercised an enormous amount of freedom.
As a kid, faced with a choice between a myriad meaningful, worthwhile things to do and watching the Dick Van Dyke Show, I chose to watch the show. How much freedom was I exercising there?
In this Post-Modern society, in which one choice is just as good as another (relatively speaking), are we left with no genuinely meaningful choices – and therefore no freedom at all?
The Rambam (12th century rabbi) said that evil is the inability to face the truth as it REALLY is. Our brains are still primitive things. Ever since “biting the apple” our brains have enabled us to create non-sustainable solipsistic non-realities and to live within them, and to pretend that they are real – that they encompass ALL of reality. Although necessary and convenient, these man-made constructs have enabled us to keep building cities, whole societies, until they finally collapse on themselves. History is replete with extinct ideas and civilizations.
We have the ancient Greeks to thank for bringing to us the importance of individuality, but also for the inevitable ensuing self-doubt and withdrawal in which the person becomes alienated – an island into/unto himself – and disconnected from all that is going on around him. I perceive a direct link between the importance of individuality and all the loneliness of a self doubting alienation that we experience as modern people. One direct consequence of this is that we have become attached to things and have become purveyors of information (these are also things). It is as if our possessions give us meaning, when it should be WE who give our possessions meaning. The over-importance of individuality has even crept into our personal relationships where we see others in terms of what we can get out of them, instead of appreciating the uniqueness of talents and perspectives we can each bring to enrich the other through a common venture or situation.
What is Freedom? Certainly it is not the ability to be trapped within ones own reality. Freedom is the ability to listen; to think and evaluate! Freedoms (latitude of allowed behavior) can be be taken away, but Liberty is not granted by Man and cannot be taken by force! It is given by God within the context of a relationship with God. You cannot create freedom by Fiat. You can declare freedom, but it has to take hold. You can take a slave out of slavery, but it is entirely something different to take the slavery out of the slave! We have all experienced this.
The solipsistic person cannot experience Freedom. Incapable of peering into others’ minds, incapable of empathy, this individual is disconnected from any sense of relationship, tradition or of belonging to anything on this earth other than the windmills of his own mind. And therefore, this person’s choices are not able to create a meaningful change within the self.
Against the backdrop of our enormous amount of civil liberties, the little man in the bottom right corner is walking a line between two very different patterns of life and has to make a choice!
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