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DF! Masthead

Taking Freedom Personally

Sunni Maravillosa

Time for a little self-evaluation here--don't worry, the only person who'll see your answers are you. I want you to consider just three questions:

Reflecting on your responses, you might notice some interesting patterns. For example, all of your answers may cluster into a specific area of freedom, say, political freedom or economic freedom. While that's all well and good, if you're like many freedom activists I know, you may be overlooking a crucial area of freedom: your personal freedom.

I can hear some of you now, saying, "But wait, Sunni! I've protested the War on (Some) Drugs in lots of ways, I've gone to my local town council to protest their usurpation of my right to do what I want with my own property! My personal freedom is just as important to me as my political and economic freedom!"

To which I reply, "Good for you. Now what about the other kind of personal freedom?"

Two aspects of personal freedom

I view personal freedom as has having two aspects. The first involves limitations the law places on one's ability to exercise freedom, from the beach to the bedroom. Peter McWilliams' comprehensive Ain't Nobody's Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society is possibly the best source of information about the state's infringements of our personal freedoms. The second is the way or ways you, yourself, might choose to restrict your freedom, quite often unintentionally. This is one of the great frontiers inside the freedom movement--an area where many people could use some help dealing with their chains, but there's little out there that offers that assistance.

While every aspect of freedom is important, an individual's personal freedom is arguably the most important. If a person boxes himself in daily, and continues to walk in chains he's cuffed around his own feet, no amount of other kinds of freedom are likely to have him feeling happy and free. There's still a weight dragging him down. Yet, because of the subtle way these chains so often work--they slip on almost without a thought, and have such nice, soft fur linings that they're barely noticeable--they can go unnoticed until the sheer weight of the number of such chains leaves a person feeling trapped, unfulfilled, and unhappy, but without a clear understanding of why.

Many such chains also involve deeply-held aspects of a person's way of being--patterns that have become so automatic they're not given any attention. Some may be rooted in childhood. Many individuals think of these patterns as part of a person's personality--a notion that makes some sense--but, if the view of personality is that once it's formed, it isn't easily modified, that can leave an individual in a real bind. How can one change something that's part of the "way you are"?

These dual elements--difficulty in recognizing the freedom-limiting aspects of your way of being, and viewing them as things that aren't easily changeable--add up to potent obstacles to making the kinds of changes that a person might need in order to feel her freest. Yet it's critical to take the time to examine your life, and your self, to see if any of these chains might be holding you back.

Asking the tough questions

Many details of this process will be forthcoming in this publication; it's simply too large and too complex an issue to address satisfactorily in one article. But I can set the stage for many of those specifics by asking a series of questions for you to muse and answer in the privacy of your own mind.

With these questions (and many others; we'll get to most of them eventually) I'm really asking you to take an honest look at where you are. Is it where you want to be? If not, how close are you? Can you get there from here?

Always choices

What you do about your answers is up to you: it's your choice. But you always, always have a choice. It may not feel like it sometimes, but I submit that that's when those fur-lined chains begin to chafe a bit. You say you've always been interested in cars, but haven't pursued it because you don't think it's "suitable for a woman"? Sounds to me like you're letting cultural (and possibly family) influences hold you back. Want to take a year off of work and travel, but think that it's not practical? By whose standard--yours, or your boss', or your spouse's? Want to pursue a polyamorous partnership, but are concerned about all the possible challenges involved? The state tries to regulate such intimate relationships, but it's your choice whether to allow that--or other people's possible reactions--to drive your decision-making, and happiness.

Other people and other influences--such as cultural norms, stereotypes, the law, or religious influences--can only have the power over your life that you choose to give them. Some people will say things like, "The state forced me to..." or "I had to do it to keep my job," and undoubtedly for them it feels like they weren't free in those situations. But, in my opinion, they're choosing to look at it that way--they're choosing to slip on the fur-lined manacles, and are blaming their presence on someone else. Does a person really have to keep that job, for example, or can she leave it in search of something that will be more fulfilling of her needs? Do you have to get the state's piece of paper sanctioning your intimate relationship, or can you risk the misunderstandings, gossip, and so forth of narrow-minded family and friends and thereby tell the state, "Get the hell out of my personal life!"? It's a choice, to feel trapped by a job that offers financial or other kinds of security, or to be afraid of what other people might think or say. It's also a choice to fly free, spreading your wings as fully as you can, to catch those marvelous updrafts and really soar in the way you--and all humans--are meant to.

These kinds of choices can be very tough, I know. Perhaps more important than the choices you make is the attitude in your mind when you make them. If you choose to look at something in terms of being forced, that's another kind of chain that you're putting on yourself. You're removing the power of choice from yourself. Your freedom is no longer a personal issue; it's in the hands of whoever you've given it to: partner, mother, boss, the ferals... and do you really want any of them to have that kind of power over you?

Some people would say that what I'm advocating is a pop-psych feel-good "trick". What it really involves is a well-known psychological phenomenon called framing. Research has repeatedly shown that how a situation or problem is presented (its frame) has an impact on a person's interpretation of it, and consequently, the choice she or he makes. For example, if you were offered a vaccine and the extensive literature you get mentions a 40% failure rate, it's likely you'd decline, because the focus is on the failure rate. If given the same information but its 60% success rate is mentioned, the tendency is to accept. Same odds, different frame: different choice.

As I said before, what you do about your answers to my questions is your choice. Are you going to frame your answers in ways that lock on the fur-lined chains, or will you choose to take your freedom personally and work toward creating the life you've always wanted? Remember: it's your life, and it's the only one you've got. No psychologically healthy individual will take your freedom more personally than you.

(c) 2000


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