Living in a (supposedly) democratic, prosperous society we sometimes take certain things for granted. Freedom is one of them. We have freedom of speech, the press, the right to assemble, the ability to choose our own paths in life: career, family, religion. Freedom means choices, and requires personal responsibility to make those choices.
For one, we need to be responsible and informed citizens. Why vote a certain way just because our families lean in that direction? I get shocked and amazed at anyone who does not keep up with what the serious issues of our society are, both locally and globally. We’re surrounded with so much media it’s a wonder we don’t get overwhelmed with information. But don’t limit yourselves to the major dailies and news broadcasts. Advertising-driven mainstream media may not be telling you the whole story. Research alternative news sources online – there is a plethora of magazines, radio broadcasts, and blogs — we may be surprised at what we learn.
People have a tendency to participate in a specific faith just because we happened to be born into a particular religion. Even within major faith traditions, the way in which spirituality is expressed can differ greatly. Look at Catholics and Protestants – I’ve had people express to me that they cannot understand why these two groups are so theologically at odds since they are both “Christian.” All of us should read our Holy Books, whatever they may be, with new eyes. We should attend the services of other faiths, if for no other reason than to learn about why they believe as they do. We all need to find a way to express our spiritual selves that reflects your beliefs, even if they begin to divert from what we were taught in Sunday School.
Freedom is often discussed on a large, global scale in terms of the political system of a nation. But each of us can struggle with freedom in the smaller spectrum of our own lives. Think about the person who cannot read or write. Is that person truly free? Accessing the resources to become literate opens another door towards freedom and the chance to fully participate in society.
Those of us who are in bondage to an abusive relationship or family situation are also one step away from true freedom. Through a solid support network and access to community services someone can break those invisible, yet binding chains. Sometimes fear is the biggest barrier. People who are addicted also need support and help, yet many find that their lifestyle leads them to be alienated and abandoned. Often addicts do not have the resources to access treatment on their own.
Struggling with a major physical or mental illness can put stumbling blocks into one’s path. With a well-funded, functioning public health system, there is no reason why anyone should have to live a reduced quality of life just because of ill health. Access to doctors and treatment should be a basic human right. How sad it is that our provincial government wants to introduce legislation allowing for these essential services to be privatized. In this case, choice does not equal freedom – it equals repression for those who cannot afford to pay for a private system.
And then there are the “little things” including a child’s first words or steps; graduating from high school; falling in love for the first time; and learning how to drive. There are so many personal triumphs in life that we take for granted as being normal developmental stages that we fail to celebrate them or even connect them to the higher state of freedom.
Each one of us should find ways to enjoy life’s daily triumphs and help others who are stumbling along the road to freedom. We cannot confine ourselves to a world of predetermined thought patterns or ideologies. The cost of freedom is high; the cost of ignorance is even more.
Paula E. Kirman is a freelance writer, editor, photographer, and website designer. For her, freedom includes bike riding, music, and pursuing interests of social concern. You can reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.