So, are you free?
Are you free? How would you respond to this question? Apparently, many people’s understanding of freedom is the exact opposite of what it actually is. “What is freedom?” Dr. Ogutu engaged the participants. “Freedom is being able to do whatever I want…” one participant responded. And with that a conversation ensued to firm up the understanding of freedom.
If given a choice between a democratic country and a totalitarian regime, where would you choose to live? Many of those who attended the session had many reservations on democracy, but when juxtaposed against totalitarianism, democracy becomes the choice. Why do so many people prefer to be free?
Why did our forefathers fight so much for freedom? Why is it still an issue throughout the world, where people fight and many lives are lost in the name of freedom?
Freedom and responsibility, one of Strathmore University’s pillars is the university’s theme for the year 2022. Many a times, people conveniently claim their freedom without claiming the responsibility that comes with exercising that freedom. Yet, the two are a package. Picking freedom and ignoring responsibility becomes a paradox. The Vice Chancellor Designate likened it to desiring Japanese wealth without wanting their hard work, yet it is from the hard work that they have built a fortune.
Without much thought, a student who chooses to abscond class and goes partying will think that they are free. Yet, this is a wrong notion of freedom. A drug addict will think that they are free because they can “freely” enjoy their doses without any restrictions yet they are not free. Freedom is not so much having the ability to do whatever one wants to do, as it is about having the ability to do what is best for oneself and for others. If we know that something is bad or risky, and yet go ahead and do it despite avowing that we don’t want to do it, perhaps we aren’t as free as we think and we are somehow slaves of our whims. Freedom, therefore, involves reigning in our passions, desires and the body and directing them towards our true nature.
Human persons are the only creatures endowed with intellect. We have the capacity to act rationally and direct our will and intellect to the pursuit of good and the truth. A person who gives in to his/her caprices can hardly claim to be free – it’s so much easier to give into something easy than to take on a hard alternative. The one who not only points at the way (and good things are not easy to attain) but also follows through shows much more self-control and freedom. One who knows what is good and freely pursues it is truly free. So it is not a paradox that former South African president, Nelson Mandela was in prison yet free. Freedom comes from within the person, and those who find it find more lasting happiness.
Freedom is an endowment given to all human beings. We are, however, tasked with the role to form it and direct it towards our good. This assignment befalls us, as individuals and generally as a society. When a child throws tantrums and cries to hold fire, you deny them and are happy to put up with the cries. This happens because you know what is good for the child, and touching fire is not. This is a way to teach the child to use their freedom for the good. Similarly, institutions need to recognize the centrality of freedom to human persons and work to support the stakeholders in educating and directing their freedoms towards the greater good.
What’s the origin of man’s freedom? Asking this question leads one to the pursuit of the most perfect form of freedom. Our intellect informs us that the origin of freedom must not be from within us, but must be from a power above us. The contemplation of the origin of freedom leads us to the discovery of God, who is the originator of our freedom. The knowledge and union with God, therefore, is the perfect form of exercising our freedom.
So, do you know what is good? Do you pursue it regardless of the difficulties involved? Then you are free.
Ideas shared here are drawn from the talk on Freedom and responsibility given by Dr. Vincent Ogutu.
This article was written by Gabriel Dinda.
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