Thoughts on Freedom
Today is the US holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the subsequent victory and separation from the British Empire. The essence of the holiday is the celebration of freedom in all its forms, though similar to how many other holidays come unmoored from their origins, it has somewhat morphed into “a day off, grilling out, and fireworks”.
I think about freedom a lot, because it’s central to expression. The ability to leverage one’s voice in pursuit of an outcome, whether in the political arena, the business world, or elsewhere, is an essential, unalienable right sealed by the founding fathers of the US, and is central to a thriving culture.
However, when taken for granted, freedom grows sour. It can begin to feel cheap. It becomes “my right to have my way trumps yours” rather than taking its rightful place as the guide rails for meaningful exchange and mutual respect.
Freedom is costly. Not to sound dramatic, but every ounce of freedom you experience cost someone dearly. In the realm of governments and politics, this is obvious. We recognize the lives laid down to ensure the passing of freedom to subsequent generations. How many families suffered from absence, lack of peace, and loss of personal fortune to ensure that others after them would have the guarantees of liberty? This is also true in the business world. Do you have a job that allows you to create value and care for the people you love? Someone else took a risk from which you are now benefiting. The associated cost may never be known. Additionally, consider all of the people who had to risk and fail to create the conditions under which you are now able to work.
Freedom is a responsibility. Viktor Frankl wrote that the Statue of Liberty on the east coast should be accompanied by the Statue of Responsibility on the west coast, because liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. Freedom spent solely in the pursuit of your own lifestyle, marking wins on your personal scorecard, or making your life a little more comfortable is wasted. This is not to imply that you and I should not enjoy the benefits of our freedom, but only that if we choose to accept the benefits we must also accept the accompanying responsibilities.
US founding father John Adams once wrote in a letter to his wife “…it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.” As you act today, are you considering the implications on the generations to come?
Freedom is an anomaly. It’s easy to forget that the kind of political and personal freedoms we experience today are not normal. Compare your level of mobility, financial discretion, and occupational freedom to all of humanity that has come before you. You and I sit at the peak of the peak of the peak of all that have come before. Even the ability to choose an occupation was unheard of until the last few hundred years of history. Will future generations judge us as the peak of freedom, after which everything went down hill, or will we choose to spend our freedom in the service of others?
All of the above is as much a finger in my own chest as anything. (In fact, this began as a journal entry, never intended to be shared.)
Use your freedom wisely, cherish it deeply, never take it for granted
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I'm Todd Henry.
I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas. More