Our Most Valuable Freedoms: These are worth fighting for
This blog post is about freedom. It seemed a sensible and meaningful topic to write about in the month of July, the same month our country celebrates our freedom as a new nation. But I have to be honest, this was not an easy article to write. Not because freedom is a difficult or complicated topic. Quite the opposite. Freedom is profound. It is at the heart of so much of what gives our life meaning. This is exactly why it took me 4 separate rewrites before settling on the version you are reading now. Let me explain.
We are a nation of celebrations. Holidays, parades, monuments, and museums. We honor our history and our hero’s. Of all, we celebrate there is one that stands out the most, freedom. Wars have been fought. Laws have been passed. Rights have been granted. All in the name of freedom. And we celebrate them all.
But it is rare that such hard-fought freedoms show much impact in our day-to-day lives. Other than voting once a year, how often do you get to exercise any of the freedoms we celebrate? When was the last time you credited VE-Day (Victory in Europe, ending WWII) for something going right in your life? I can’t say I have ever thought “wow if it weren’t for the Declaration of Independence I might not have gotten such a great rate on my car insurance.”
So when is freedom important? Where does it impact our lives in a meaningful way beyond national holidays, parades, and fireworks? We have come to believe that freedom is more of an idea than a living part of our everyday life. Unless you look inward, the idea of freedom is pretty meaningless.
So let’s look inward. What are the freedoms that truly matter? When I think of freedom I think of the two most basic and essential. These two freedoms are at the heart of who we are and the results of our lives up to this moment. Who we are, what we do, how we live, the quality and quantity of all we hold dear, depends on these simple freedoms. So what are they?
Let’s start with the most important freedom, our freedom of thought. This supremely underestimated and underutilized superpower has the rare distinction of having no constraints. If you are trying to improve your life in any way the first place to start is to observe your thoughts. Are they serving you, or are they your kryptonite? Do they empower you or tear you down? You have the freedom to think whatever you want. No wars need to be won, no laws to pass.
Viktor Frankl gave the world a gift when he survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Frankl, a Jewish psychologist, found himself under the total control of a brutal regime. He lost his practice, his home, and his entire family. Here was a man with nothing. Or so it might seem. In his darkest days, beaten and starving, Viktor Frankl discovered the one true freedom that could not be taken – the freedom of thought. During his time at various concentration camps, Frankl would discover, the key difference between the survivors and those who would not live to see the end of the war was their daily thoughts.
During their rest time in overcrowded huts, the prisoners would talk amongst themselves. Often the talk would be about the foods they loved. Other times they would describe the lives they left behind, their missing loved ones, good times long gone. Occasionally a prisoner would talk fondly of what they would do when the war was over. Such descriptions were rare but would prove to be a defining difference in who died and who survived to see their liberation.
Those whose thoughts were about what they would do when they got home after the war were far more likely to survive. As Frankl would learn, as he pieced together his observations during his imprisonment, thoughts of a future longed for gave prisoners hope. It gave them meaning. As Frankl would say often, it was their duty to survive, not for what they needed from life, but for what life needed from them.
In contrast, the prisoners who thought most about their past, about how things used to be before the war, wasted away quickly. This was especially true for those who lived in a seeming delusional fantasy as if they were currently back home in their former life. Driven by their constant thoughts of the past, these poor soles had essentially given up on life.
I know this may be an extreme example. But how much of your time is spent ruminating on the past? If you are like most people the answer is far too much. Hope is the ideal state of receivership. It is to the hopeful that all good things are delivered in abundance. Hope is the direct result of thinking about future possibilities in a positive way. It not only gives your life meaning, but it also gives you a sense of control.
The second of our two move valuable freedoms is our freedom to act, or not to act. Can you imagine how many jobs could be saved, how many relationships could be spared gut-wrenching emotional trauma if only people practiced the simple act of pausing before acting? Again, Frankl’s wisdom shines. The simple act of stepping in between stimulus and response to temper our actions with mild reflection could do so much good. Freedom in its simplest form.
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space… In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response, lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor Frankl, Auschwitz Survivor, Neurologist and Psychiatrist
Our freedom to act plays an important role in how we form habits and stick to our goals. Once we set a goal we embark on a journey full of ups and downs, clarity, and distraction. Temptation lurks around every corner. Willpower is overrated when it comes to sticking to a plan. It is also limited in capacity, growing weaker as the day progresses. Ever give in to cravings first thing in the morning? Not likely. Your capacity for making important choices is strongest when your bodies are fully charged. How about mid-afternoon? Yeah, me too. It takes a lot more willpower as we run out of gas. Ultimately it is our ability to step in between our cravings (stimulus) and eating that cupcake (response).
Knowing that we have a choice in our actions is a powerful freedom. We always have the freedom to respond quickly out of habit or to pause and think about what we really want. We won’t always succeed. There is a lot involved in forming new habits and sticking to our goals. You will win and you will fail. But above all, you will learn and grow. Why? Because you have the freedom, the birthright, to chose how to act and how to respond to all life’s challenges.
So whenever you think of freedom, during a holiday or trip through a museum, remember the most important freedoms of all. Your freedom to think and act in ways that serve your best interests and make you a better version, all day, every day.
Author and Optimize Coach
David is a writer and coach specialing in awakening human potential. David likes to think of himself as a conscious creator, student of life, Super Dad, chef, Spartan Athlete, and Optimize Performance Coach. Writing for Dr. Kusher and the CFL community is just one of his many joys.