Instructor Ginger Gough
October 21, 2015
While “freedom” may be all around us, the idea is a difficult one to define. If someone lives in the United States of America, the idea of freedom has surely been introduced to them. Perhaps this person may not live in America but they desire to, purely for the opportunity to experience something that isn’t available to them in their home country. If one were to look up the word “freedom” in Webster’s dictionary, they’ll find many different definitions—everything from “the quality or state of being free” to “liberation” to such things as “imprisonment” or “servitude.” Another definition of “freedom” is “exempt” from what most others would be bound and confined by, such as taxes or control.
The Oxford English Dictionary goes a little further when it says that freedom is, “…the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” But freedom is liberty, plain and simple: the expansive horizon of possibility laid out before an individual. Freedom is boundless possibility and freedom is also the ability to direct one’s way within that atmosphere of possibility.
I pull the title for this paper from the Matchbox Twenty song “If You’re Gone.” The man singing has been left by his significant other, so he’s experiencing a kind of freedom. Someone listening to this song, though, will know that this man is totally miserable. He follows the title phrase (If you’re gone) with “…baby it’s time to come home.”
The words engraved on the on the Statue of Liberty, (written by the poet Emma Lazarus) beckon to the rest of the world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” (see howtallisthestatueofliberty.org for more information on the Statue of Liberty). A person will find in this country room to breathe. Then, what one does with said freedom or “breathing room,” is purely up to them. America is considered a “land of opportunity” where one can determine what it is they’d like to become in this world and then take steps to see that desire become a reality.
In America, a person hopes they will find in this country the atmosphere necessary to see their dreams become real, solid, concrete. Freedom is a place —whether figuratively or literally—where there isn’t anyone forbidding or otherwise telling the person in question that they can’t do what they want. Of course, the parameters are set on either side of the individual, like guardrails lining the highways and byways, at ensuring what the person wants is legal and that they are physically and mentally capable of doing this act of will, whatever it may be. Freedom, then, comes with some fine print. Freedom as I’ve been explaining it specifically applies in this way: say someone wants to relocate to America in order to open a deli or restaurant showcasing their homeland cuisine. And, if for whatever reason, the business then fails, the responsibility still lay with the individual. America provides the laws ensuring personal ambition is met with the resources necessary to realize that ambition. This, then, brings the onus back on the individual and their free will. If a person chooses an ambition that is beyond their personal means or they choose to do something that will affect the balance of the other law abiding citizens in proximity (surely looking to do the same for themselves), they most-likely will be shut down in some way, shape or form. This being said, if the first thing a person thinks about upon hearing the word “freedom” is the American flag, or The Statue of Liberty, then they may want to dig a little deeper. Freedom starts within the individual; freedom of mind. Specifically, freedom from thoughts that keep an individual from keeping their own self hemmed in by the past or by fear of the future. For instance, the man in the song referenced above has all the time in the world but until he gets over his lost love (or she comes back to him), he’s not going to be free from the darkness in his heart and mind. Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founders, said “We hold these truths to be self-evident…that all men (people) are endowed… with liberty.” Taking this quote as the basis for an understanding of what it means to be free, I think we can move forward in understanding what true freedom is.
For me, freedom, or liberty, is the clarity of mind to understand where I’ve come from and where I’m going. It’s the mental acuity that enables me to not worry about my wellbeing or any of my baser needs such as clothing or housing. Working at my job allows me the freedom to pay for clothes and my rent and my car. But freedom is also the putting into motion the plans in my heart and mind that will keep these things (such as food, clothing or my living situation) stable and sustainable. This is what freedom means to me.
Freedom, to me, is also possibility. Washington Irving’s short story Rip Van Winkle is about a middle-aged man whose only freedom is to shrug off his responsibilities and wonder around the nameless village situated at the base of the Catskill mountain range in upstate New York. He would do anything to stay away from his home wherein dwelt his wife, his sole source of misery and mental imprisonment. This might include spending all day fishing or hunting in the mountains with his faithful canine companion Wolf. On one of the latter excursions, he finds himself at sunset in an open glen and upon hearing his name, turns to meet and then follow a man bearing a large cask up the hill. Into the side of a mountain do Rip and this man venture and we meet several other members of the nameless man’s party. They turn out to be ghosts of Hendrick Hudson, the explorer, and his company. Rip gets three-sheets-to-the-wind drunk on the alcohol from the cask and falls asleep. And in one of the cleanest breaks in any story, awakes out in the glen—twenty years later. While the story is a fantastic one, twice removed from reality (Irving in his story is referencing and quoting another fictional character, the chronologer Diedrich Knickerbocker, who “knew” of Van Winkle), a kernel of pure freedom lay within. And on either side of Van Winkle’s nap, the American Revolution has come and gone (and stays). The former picture of King George that adorned the inn outside which Van Winkle had sat in on many an unofficial town meeting has been replaced with a portrait of George Washington, sword held high. Rip now finds himself in town and hears the news that his overbearing wife had died of an aneurism. More freedom. But again, while the internal and now external possibility granted (the now aged) Rip Van Winkle has been brought to bear on him, without a drive to go and to do (something he never had), said freedom will surely become in itself a form of imprisonment. He had no home to go to as his former house had become vacant, the windows broken and the doors rotted off the hinges. He even sees a dog that resembles Wolf but that doesn’t recognize him and growls back at Rip’s call. While Van Winkle’s past is gone, he still has freedom to move around in a new life and a new world, the world of new American freedom.
The world continues to get smaller due in large part to technology’s interconnectivity. This means that ideas are free to roam across the wires and airwaves unlike they ever have in the history of humankind. With many American (and otherwise) individuals and groups looking to spread technology to the rest of the world, i.e. third world countries, this means libertarian (not political) ideas and viewpoints will spread alongside. With all this information in the ether, the act of freeing one’s mind to become open to possibility and liberty is easier than ever. Taking in more information; this is how freedom of mind is achieved and a better life is realized. We all have a new dawn everyday to awake and realize the full potential of the good of what has come before and paved the way for us going forward. When you think about it, Rip Van Winkle did nothing but drink himself to sleep in order to taste this new freedom, freedom as I have defined it. He didn’t work and he didn’t face any of his responsibilities in what most might consider “the right way”. The concept of freedom is at least a dual one. Because if all you have is freedom, then without direction, there is entropy. Freedom balanced against hardship, struggle and suffering (in a word: work) is true to life. We have the freedom to see to it that we ourselves remain free and that those around us in this world realize their personal freedom, should they so desire it. Freedom, as I define it, is freedom of mind. Liberty of mind. This is something that can be found anywhere and in any country, regardless of governmental auspices.
- Webster’s Dictionary
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Matchbox Twenty. “If You’re Gone”. Mad Season. Atlantic, 2000. CD.
- Lazarus, Emma. New Colossus. “What is the inscription on the Statue of Liberty?” How tall is the Statue of Liberty? n.p. n.d. Web
- Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle. Birmingham: 1819. Print.