What is freedom?

I have been thinking about the idea of freedom a lot recently. Most of us think of freedom as being able to do what we want when we want and with whom we want.

We have just navigated another national election process here in South Africa. As conversation after conversation has come around to the elections it is clear that there is much to be celebrated. It wasn’t that long ago that participation in such an election was not possible for all South Africans.

I can’t help thinking, though, that we are a long way from real freedom. Yes, when a person enters the voting booth they can mark their cross alongside any one of the many parties. But how many people could have made the choice to vote for a different party? Not because of any threat or fear of retribution, but because they lacked the interior freedom.

This question is not unique to South Africa. I recall several conversations with people in the UK who were clearly carrying emotional baggage from decisions made decades ago into the voting booth.

I must confess immediately that I have never voted. As an adult I have never lived in the country of my citizenship during an election so I have never had the opportunity (Voting outside the country has never been possible).

Nonetheless, I find it striking that many of the people I have talked to that old allegiances trump more recent developments.

The voting example is just a small example of a much question – how much does our past influence the choices that we make? How much does our concern for ‘fitting in’ shape the way we live our lives?

I don’t think it is possible to get to a place where one is truly ‘free’ from these kinds of considerations, but we are most certainly not free when we are unaware of the factors which heavily influence the choices that we are making.

Real freedom is so much more than the absence of exterior constraints.

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