“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
Freedom, like love, is a many splendoured thing. All forms of freedom are interrelated. You may have some of the freedoms all of the time, but not all of the freedoms all of the time.
Often, having more of one type of freedom, say like spatial freedom (a big house), may mean less of other types of freedom, like financial or time freedom.
What does it mean to be “truly free”? What are the different forms of freedom that we crave for?
The age old saying – “Health is more important than wealth” – rings true in this day and age. Faced with multiple pressures and stresses, many of us are foregoing our health in the pursuit of success and material well-being.
When you have health, you have the freedom to move around unencumbered. Your naturally high energy levels free you from the need to constantly imbibe caffeinated beverages, nicotine through a cigarette, or alcohol. Health also frees you from the expensive costs of healthcare and medications.
Do you have the freedom to practice your religion? Are you at liberty to move freely around without any restriction? If so, you would have enjoyed the benefits of social freedom.
Social freedoms are determined by the ease in which we can apply ourselves in a societal context. However, it is a difficult equilibrium to manage as the increase in one person’s freedom often impinges on the freedom of another person.
Space is the final frontier – especially in crowded Asian cities like Singapore. In the context of freedom, space represents the amount of physical, intellectual and emotional space which you have. It can include the size of your homes and cars, your office, or your ability to think expansively.
Space also represents the distance between your personal and social space. Generally speaking, the more individual space you desire, the less room you have for others to “crowd out” your space.
Have you had days when you can just empty your mind without a worry in the world? Well, that is psychological freedom.
In an age of hyper-tasking and continual interaction through social media and digital devices, we are increasingly robbed of our peace of mind. To regain some semblance of psychological freedom, we need to “repossess” our mind and learn to “discard” those worries and concerns that impinge upon it.
To regain psychological freedom, you can consider practices like meditation or light exercises to “free your mind”. Doing the things you enjoy and love also helps you to regain your inner tranquillity.
This is probably the most well-known “freedom” of all. Parlayed by financial planners as the gold standard for personal investments, financial freedom is the state where you do not have to work to generate an income.
Here, your assets – be they stocks, funds, property, land or others – are able to attract a “passive” income which meets your living expenses. When you have reached this stage, you are technically free from the need to work. This makes financial freedom a very attractive phase to be in.
Are you shackled to your calendar? Do your schedules look busier than former US President Barack Obama?
Well, it looks like you are suffering from a severe lack of time freedom!
For many high flying executives and managers, their shortage of time is compensated by the acquisition of material assets – condo, car, carats, or cold hard cash. In turn, this could hopefully accelerate their abilities to achieve financial freedom.
Feelings play a big role in our state of freedom. It is interesting to note that how we feel may sometimes be worse than what the actual state of affairs are. However, perception is often reality.
To enjoy emotional freedom, you need to do a couple of things:
Interestingly though, many of us are willing to trade our emotional freedoms for greater stability in loving and lasting relationships.
There are various forms of spiritual freedom. It can be as basic as having the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without harm, to being free from negative beliefs and emotions like worry, self-doubt, disappointment and depression.
Spiritual freedom can be both personal and communal. Often, it is closely inter-twined with one’s values and ethics, and related to one’s upbringing. Practices that help to lift one’s spirit like meditation and prayer are crucial in restoring one’s spiritual freedom.
Political freedoms are not just exercised at the polls. Being free to express one’s views – be it online or offline – constitutes the degree of one’s political freedom. The state of development in a country’s civil society is a proxy for its political freedom.
Often, one’s perception of political freedom is closely associated with one’s ideologies and beliefs. Traditionalists embrace a more conservative and socialist political regime, while progressives prefer a more liberal and “individual centric” political environment.
Last but not least, artistic freedoms are determined by the freedom of individuals to express themselves creatively. This is often determined by the degree of censorship present in a society, be it sanctioned by the state, religious bodies, or communities.
Like political freedoms, artistic freedoms of expression can create significant tensions. One man’s artistic freedom is another man’s sacrilege. The challenge here is to balance these freedoms such that there is sufficient space for heterogeneity to flourish while allowing individual groups to develop.
As you would imagine, there are significant trade-offs and conflicts between the different forms of freedom. These tussles occur at various levels: individual, communal, societal, national and international.
On a personal level, we need to juggle between the different forms of freedom.
If we wish to build our health (physiological freedom), we need to devote time to exercising (reduced time freedom).
To express ourselves creatively (artistic freedom), we may need to accept a lower paying and perhaps less stressful occupation (reduced financial freedom).
On a societal level, the rights of one group to have greater freedom often impinges upon the rights of another group to practice their differing forms of freedom.
These conflicts are usually more evident in the arenas of spiritual, artistic and spatial freedom.
On a global biosphere level, the freedom of advanced economies to consume recklessly has resulted in greater pollution, deforestation, and the depletion of wildlife. This reduces the spatial and physiological freedoms of communities which depend on nature to survive and thrive.
What are your views on the different forms of freedom? Do you agree that having more of one freedom often results in less of other freedoms?
“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” – Rosa Parks