People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. —Soren Kierkegaard
Happy Independence Day, United States! My, but we do love our 4th of July celebrations. Fireworks, parades, bands, families, and cookouts are all part of the tradition. We also have a tendency to wax philosophical on this day. Look around the Internet and you’ll find dozens of essays on freedom. Some quote the Declaration of Independence: “When in the course of human events …” Others quote the preamble to the Constitution: “We the people, of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union …” Plenty discuss responsibility and many honor the sacrifice of those who have fallen.
All of those topics are well and appropriate for the day. I have no problem with the topics themselves, but at this point in my life, I’ve heard those topics run into the ground. One would have to be masterfully eloquent to keep my attention very long.
I understand the responsibilities of being an American. I appreciate the sacrifice of those who served and are serving (we’ll be talking with our Marine later this morning). The part of being an American I have difficulty doing is what many of you seem to do so well: sit back and relax. I can sit and try to watch a movie, but it is difficult to not have my phone in my hand. There’s also the matter of keeping the kids and the animals from destroying the house. One does not just sit and chill in this house without some effort. Where is that freedom thing, again?
Freedom To Not Work All The Time
Please note the qualifier in that heading. I’m not saying there is a freedom to be a lazy bum that sponges off society. Few people in our society actually milk us for our generosity. A majority of people who receive some form of federal assistance are employed, but still earn less than the $1000 a month income cap on assistance. But everyone who works needs a break. We look forward to our weekends, our vacations, and our federal holidays. While we may work hard, the US still has a party mentality that celebrates those moments when we’re not working.
Except, I can’t do it. You’re reading the results. Despite the fact that it’s a holiday, I’m sitting here in the wee hours of the morning doing research and writing. Kat always suggests that I just rerun a previous article on days like today. Certainly, I have the freedom to do that and give myself the day off. I can’t bring myself to do it, though. I have to get up to walk the dog, anyway, and as tired as I am, I feel obligated to sit down and create at least one new article every day.
Keeping busy is a point of anxiety for me. I need to be doing something all the time. Even things that should be relaxing, such as grilling out or entertaining friends becomes work for me. Still, I think of the garment workers in Bangladesh who work 80+ hours a week, live in cramped dorms provided by their employers, and rarely see their families. They do not have the freedom to not work. They have no choice. No matter how busy I make my life, I am still better off because I have the freedom to stop if/when I wish.
Freedom To Improve
We are all far from perfect. There is a lot we don’t know, even though there are books written on almost every topic imaginable. Fortunately, we have the freedom to improve. We can read. We can take specialized classes. We can even go back to school and get a degree completely different from anything we’ve done before. While perfection may always elude us, we have the freedom to make ourselves a little less imperfect.
An important part of that improvement is the freedom to read anything we want. I read with interest this week how what we read matters in our brain development, even as adults. Those who involve themselves with “deep reading,” such as academic journals, non-fiction, poetry, and literary fiction, hold advantages over those who only read online or mass-market fiction. Deep reading synchronizes the communication areas of our brain. As a result, we speak better, write better, and are more articulate in our conversation with others.
I remember hearing in school how children in the former Soviet Union were given tests at an early age that determined their eventual occupation. They were trained to a level of proficiency in that occupation and that was it. Improvement was limited and opportunities were few. I am thankful we have the freedom to make ourselves better.
Freedom To Love
We’ve had to fight for this one and there are still many places across the US where loving whomever you choose to love is challenging. The freedom to love, though, has grown tremendously over the past two years and shows no sign of letting up. Part of that whole being able to chill and relax thing is dependent, at least in part, on being with people you love. This is why families get together on holidays such as this.
Loving is important and understanding why we love the ways we do deepens and enhances our ability to love. At least, I think it does. There is a book by Skye Cleary called Existentialism and Romantic Love that I highly recommend. In the book, Cleary considers all the various webs of relationships into which we’re born. She explores the complexities of loving and being with others and how that affects our place in the world. After reading the book, I’m fairly sure there are even more areas of love we have yet to explore.
Not everyone is so fortunate, though. There are still too many places where LGBT relationships carry a death sentence. There are too many places where young women are not allowed to choose their own mate. The freedom to love is a relatively new concept for the entire world. We should celebrate that we are here to appreciate and take advantage of the progress.
Freedom To Be Entertained
I don’t watch a lot of television, but it’s there when I choose it. We don’t go out to a lot of movies or shows, but they’re there when we want them. We have more entertainment options than we have time. There are even places you can download or stream movies legally. We are inundated with the freedom to escape reality for as long as we need.
Entertainment is a critical part of our lifestyle and our ability to chill on weekends such as this. Whether we’re taking in live music or binging on Netflix, our entertainment choices give us the opportunity to set aside all the worry and stress that threatens to kill us. Some of us are good with an hour or so a day. Others need a bit more. Plenty of people even sleep with their televisions blaring away at them. While a danger of slothfulness is worth watching, that we have such freedom is exceptional to this time and place in history.
I plan to try very, very hard to chill the rest of the day. I want to enjoy that freedom, maybe take a nap, sing songs with my 18-year-old, or enjoy a cup of coffee with Kat. Thousands of men and women died for this freedom, after all. Even the lesser freedoms are worth celebrating. So light up a cigar if you’re so inclined, fill a glass of scotch if you have it, and let’s enjoy the day.
Happy Birthday, America. Thank you for the gift of that freedom to chill.