We are brought up to conceive of freedom and responsibility as being two mutually exclusive concepts. In our mind they can’t quite sit happily side by side within the same sentence, let alone having one logically entailing the other.
Yet as many other notions taken for granted in life, it is just another preconception to be broken. In this article, I would like to talk about how I see them as compatible and inseparable.
What Responsibility and Freedom are not
Let’s be honest, we always think of responsibility as an undesirable civic and moral obligation that we have to take in order to be good citizens, friends, parents, employees, students, leaders, whatever. Responsibility is like an extra burden or weight that is laid on our shoulder and even though we may be proud and honored by taking that responsibility we still sometimes feel that it requires effort, discipline, will, courage and most of all, lack of our own personal freedom.
In fact we see responsibility as taking away from us that ‘freedom’ of thought or being that so much characterizes youth. We see responsibility as coming down on us as we grow older and our days when we were young, mindless and ‘free’ turns into a whole world of restrictions, obligations, consequences, protocol and limitations. It’s like responsibility is actually inversely proportional to ‘freedom’.
Yet how is it that we think of freedom? I have put freedom in inverted comas in the previous paragraph for a reason. I think there is a largely overlooked ambiguity in the way we use the word freedom. In the above paragraph freedom is used so as to mean uncommitted choices, inconsequential action, thoughtlessness in doing, aimless wandering without having to report to anything or anyone. In short, freedom is seen as being unbound by duty, obligations and responsibility.
What freedom really is…in my opinion
I came to see freedom in a different light nowadays.
I see freedom as being the power to make choices that can positively change your future and that of others.
I see freedom as the power to leap out of the mental rut one is stuck in the present. I see freedom as being conscious and awake to the present and one’s authentic self. I see freedom as that positive energy one can use deliberately to create ripples that last beyond your immediate existence. Most of all, I see freedom as breaking free from the mold of old negative habits and ways of thinking.
Responsibility is the Key
I also see responsibility as being the key to real freedom.
Here are a few reasons why I think freedom entails taking responsibility:
- Responsibility means taking charge of your life. It means believing that you are no longer a powerless victim of circumstances. You are not what past circumstances made you or subject to what life throws at you. You are what you make of yourself now in the present. You have the freedom to change your life by acting now. You also have the freedom not to be disempowered by unfavorable situations. Experience is not something that comes on you but something you make out of a situation.
- Responsibility means being aware of your feelings and actions. Your actions and feelings belong to you. Staying unaware of your present feelings and actions means living on autopilot. It means not having the freedom to recognize that your free will is a function of your life and you have the choice to do something good and meaningful out of it or not. Living with blinkered vision or being oblivious to your present means living irresponsibly and being as free as an automaton.
- Responsibility means getting to know your authentic self. We have heard this word many times. Authenticity is sometimes mystified as the holy grail of self-development. I think that it is just a natural process of inner-development aided by insight, an open heart and a pinch of wisdom. Authenticity comes from understanding that first of all we are perfect just the way we are. We have all the right ingredients for greatness already inside of us. We don’t need to add anything special, we just need to open a bit more our hearts to listen more to ourselves and slowly come to understand our purpose in life. A person who knows that doesn’t need approval from others. He is not affected by other people’s whims, shallowness or mockery. He lives in the solid confidence and happiness of knowing that what he is doing is part of the plan. He is in sync with his purpose. That is a form of responsibility for the opposite of that means living your life according to someone else’s dictation or beliefs, be that someone you know or society at large. Being responsible means being strong enough to stand up for what your heart truly believes and allowing yourself to be that which you really are not what others made you think you are.
- Responsibility means taking action to positively change and break old habits. We can either live our lives stuck in a rut and let it pass us by because we make ourselves believe that we do not have the will or strength to change it or take responsibility and change what we can while accepting what we cannot. The realization that we have within us the power to make our life happen the way we want it is the biggest breakthrough we can ever achieve because changing our internal reality and beliefs will automatically change our actions. The next step is taking responsibility and be ready to take off. ‘Readiness to take off’ is an important thing I have learned recently. Many times I felt like I had enough knowledge about something, the right motivation and the right perspective but something inside of me was ‘telling’ me I wasn’t ready. This is the last self-defeating thought which deceives you in not taking action. Being ready is the ultimate leap from having the adequate means to do something to taking responsibility and just do it.
- Responsibility means understanding and reaching out for others. Because of the way we are biologically and psychologically setup it is natural to suppose that we are separate and cut off from the rest. This is not to blame. After all we make sense of the world around us through our own interpretations and motivations. Yet we also fall into the mindset of being somehow self-centered. It’s always about me, mine, myself as against yours, others and the rest. When we shift our perspective to a deeper understanding of our roles in life we realize that we are not special or independent as much as we thought. This can be ultimately liberating for it makes us conceive ourselves as being part of the larger whole. It makes us feel connected to the limitless and abundant source of life and the universe. Everything is ultimately interdependent. This is one of the mysteries of life. The more we realize that the more we gain insight into the fact that we do not need to struggle to gain more respect, power, money, fame, resources or whatever. All we need is to relax, let go and follow our heart and in so doing making ourselves a natural instrument of life. Life will flow through us and unfold before our eyes. This is the ultimate freedom.