In this article I will attempt to answer the question: What is Freedom?
You can also watch my family discuss this article by clicking on the YouTube link below!
... is a noun that, according to Oxford Languages means ...
"the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint."
Freedom is a word that many people use, but that can mean different and at times conflicting things. I chose this topic because this can make hearing the word "Freedom" confusing at times for children like myself. Hopefully this article can help!
Please share comments and suggestions for improving this article if you disagree with my take or think it can be improved.
Freedom ... a History
The movie Braveheart comes to mind when I hear the word "Freedom". Mel Gibson plays the man William Wallace who fought for Scottish freedom against the British in the early 1300s.
Here is an excerpt...
"Run and you'll live, at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!"
Many Americans resonate with this movie because it speaks to the American story ... fighting for our freedom during the Revolutionary War. The Colonialists in the decades leading up to the Declaration of Independence appeared to have many freedoms. For example, Colonialists had many freedoms to assemble and some freedom of religion. This was a big reason for many Europeans to come to the Americas in the first place. However, some of these freedoms were eroded away by King George...taxation without representation being a big example. My sister wrote an article about the Revolutionary War and years leading up to it if you have further interest. It's awesome!
One could argue that the Colonialists had some "Personal Freedoms" but not as much "Economic Freedom". Economic Freedom refers to the ability to control one's money, start businesses, and generally make a living how we wish. A key issue the Founding Fathers spoke of was being taxed without any say in the matter ... because King George ultimately had the authority to take and give freedom.
If one person can take away your freedom...are you really free?
That was a common question in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Some people said they had enough freedom, because they didn't feel that at the time they were being prevented from living their lives the way they wanted to. This view contrasted with those like John Adams who believed, as I do, that so long as any one person has the power to take away my freedom ... I am not truly free.
Modern day debates about freedom
Confusion over the meaning of the word freedom puts the word itself in the same category as words like "Love" or "God" ... which depending on the person and circumstance can mean very different things. One can "love" their sister, but this is clearly not the same as "loving" a Thanksgiving Turkey! You can ask me if I believe in "God" but even if I say yes, are we talking about the same thing?
Today, there are many debates about the word freedom. Some people believe mask mandates impose on their freedom. In contrast, others say their freedom is being harmed by not wearing masks in public places. Some people believe they should be free to own a gun. In contrast, others believe their freedom is being harmed by living in places with lots of guns.
These are complex and confusing arguments because both sides are using the word "Freedom". The purpose of this article is not to decide these debates. My goals is to help readers think about the word Freedom and give them a framework for approaching these debates.
To help I describe three kinds of freedom:
1) Personal freedom
First, what is personal freedom? Personal freedom is one's ability to do, say, or believe what they want. That sounds pretty nice right? Well one thing to keep in mind is that if everyone always had complete personal freedom then everything would be chaos! People could steal and do really bad things if they wanted and there would be no laws, no rules, and no police to stop them. So that means you need to have a balance between the amount of personal freedom and rules for a society to function. Different people have different opinions on how much personal freedom people should have.
2) Financial freedom
Financial freedom and financial independence go hand in hand. Financial independence means having sufficient income and savings to live a consistently comfortable life. Financial freedom means having more money than you spend because then you don’t have to worry about money. When you don’t have financial freedom then there are a lot of things you can't do because you have to worry about money and restrict yourself with what you buy.
3) Mental freedom
Mental freedom is freedom from your biology. When a dog sees a squirrel it has no choice but to run after it. It has been hard wired through years and years of evolution to chase after the squirrel. It does not have a choice and can’t decide if it actually does want to chase it. All animals have this biological response to things, including humans. But there is also good news! Humans also have the power to override the biological response through self discipline and will power. Lots of people see self discipline as restricting themselves and taking away freedom. But really you're exercising freedom from your biological response.
Let me give an example, when I was writing this article, I needed to do a lot of research on what freedom is. So I went on YouTube to find a simple video explaining freedom. The moment I opened up the website I immediately got distracted by a bunch of videos like “20 facts you didn’t know about dogs!”.
So why was I so tempted by these videos even though it was not what I was originally looking for?
Well, platforms like youtube are designed to keep you using them for long periods of time. They achieve this by using something called supernormal stimuli. What this is, is using our biological response against us. Humans were hard wired to seek out novelty because we used to need to find new information so that we could survive. With YouTube you are constantly being shown more and more novelty to get you to click on a watch videos. Supernormal stimuli is everywhere in modern society, trying to get you to succumb to short term pleasures, like junk food and video games. But we can achieve what we truly want by exercising will power and achieving mental freedom!
Thank you for reading my article about the meaning of Freedom!
Aila (with lots of help from Dad :)
P.S. Thank you Sumay and Mommy for your comments and suggestions!