Freedom and relationships

I had an interesting conversation last weekend. The person I was talking to is a retired philosopher. At some point in the conversation he made the observation that we find our true freedom in real loving substantial relationships.

The myth of western individualism is that freedom is directly proportional to autonomy. This comment flies in the face of that.

He went to expand a little – that we find ourselves be our best selves when we know we are loved. When stated so baldly, it seems obvious.

But the myth which appears increasingly prevalent seems to suggest that it is better not to ‘tie oneself down’.

For my part, I know that my life has been deeply enriched by a very small number of particular friendships. There are people who profoundly touch me. I know I would drop anything for any one of them. I would fly half around the world to make things just a little easier. At the same time, I find the freedom to be fully myself in these relationships – which includes paying attention to my own needs and my own calling.

I know that the depths of who I am is cherished in the relationship. I also know that I am seen for what I am in the relationship. I am neither put on a pedestal nor denigrated. I am able to be vulnerable and fearful, and I am able to celebrate my triumphs without shame or false humility. I also know I cannot hide.

I know that occasionally attending to these few relationships does cost or require investment which surely curtails other things I could be doing. I would not choose otherwise because the benefit I receive is worth so much more than the other ‘stuff’.

There is no such thing as absolute freedom. We cannot be fully ourselves and completely free of relationships. We find out who we are in our interactions with others and with our world. But with relationships come commitments.

So what if the most precious freedom we can taste is the freedom to be fully, authentically ourselves?

Freedom to be someone rather than freedom to do anything.

Too often relationships are touted as the things that constrain us from doing things. But what if committed, long term relationships (of any sort) are really the source of life; the hidden wellspring. Not just any relationship – but relationships that not only allow us to be ourselves, but bring out the best in us.

For those to whom this post seems obvious, unnecessary and overly laboured – forgive me. I’m a but of a slow learner – and I wrote this as much as a reminder to myself as anything else!

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