Liberty, license, and liberation

A reader has a question about last week’s article, which was entitled, “It’s all UP to you” His question and my answer follow, but before I begin, let me invite YOU, too, to pose questions or suggest topics you would like me to cover. Now, on to his question:

“I’d like to ask you about something you said in your previous article in the Personal Development Newsletter. You said, ‘Take responsibility. Be accountable for all your actions. When you can live with their consequences, you will know what it is to be free.’ I am not sure I completely understand this. Do you explain that in your following statement, ‘Don’t COVER UP your mistakes… Instead, learn from the past and move on.’? Is the freedom you are talking about in moving on and not getting stuck in one’s mistakes? It doesn’t seem to be in being able to do anything one wants.”

This is an excellent question and an important subject for freedom is an essential ingredient of happiness. However, we cannot experience it until we understand what it is. So, let’s start by considering the three types, or aspects, of freedom: liberty, license, and liberation.

LIBERTY is either granted to you by the government and others or usurped by the population in a revolution. It is a state of life in which one has freedom of expression, religion, and the pursuit of happiness. It is freedom from oppression and tyranny. A free society invites everyone to reach his or her potential. But to preserve equilibrium, freedom is carefully balanced with responsibility. We are free to pursue our dreams as long as they do not impinge on the legitimate rights of others. If I wish, for example, to become rich, I am free to work hard to do so, but not free to steal your money.

LICENSE is freedom without responsibility. It is doing whatever one pleases in complete disregard for the rights of others. In the minds of some, freedom means to be free from the need of regulations, rules, and responsibilities. If everyone felt this way, we would live in a world of anarchy and chaos. License destroys freedom, for in a world of license, no one can be trusted. The streets are no longer safe, and everyone becomes a prisoner of fear.

LIBERATION is the result of being emancipated or set free. It can be political. For instance, victims of prejudice and child abuse should be liberated so they can live their lives without fear. Since my column deals with personal development, not politics, my use of the word freedom refers to liberation from destructive habits, self-defeating attitudes, and limiting beliefs.

How ironic it is that though most of us are raised in free societies, we are prisoners of self-doubt and fear. We become immobilized by worry and disheartened by every difficulty we face. We become weighed down by responsibilities and find them overwhelming. How can we cope when we are drained of hope! When I speak of freedom, I speak of freedom from fear, doubt, regret, anger, hopelessness, and a sense of powerlessness. Liberation is a process of breakthrough and renewal. By conquering our fears and weaknesses, we become emancipated. We shatter our shackles and discover freedom.

How do we begin the process of liberation? We start by doing whatever is RIGHT, not whatever is EASY. What is right? Whatever helps us to GROW. By grow, I mean to grow BETTER. We are programmed for endless growth. Frustrating this inner urge leads to a host of problems. As long as you make it your credo to be better each day than you were the day before, you will be progressing on the correct path.

In order to grow, a snake has to shed its skin. Similarly, as we grow we will do a lot of shedding. For as we continuously do the right thing, we will automatically shed worry, regret, fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, despair, doubt, and other self-limiting feelings and beliefs. After all, if I do what is right, what is there to regret? What is there to be ashamed of? If I always do the right thing, the consequences of my actions will always be positive, so what is there to worry about? This is what I meant when I wrote, “Be accountable for all your actions. When you can live with their consequences, you will know what it is to be free.”

Does freedom mean to be free to do what one wants? Not in the sense of license, but it does mean to be free to do what one REALLY WANTS. And what is that? All we really want is to be happy. But some of us are confused and misled and search for happiness in all the wrong places. A 16-year-old girl, for example, engages in sex with the hope of finding love and happiness. Instead, she becomes a teenage single mom with huge difficulties, which she may or may not be able to overcome.

Yet, when we always do the right thing, we get what we really want, which is happiness. For happiness is not something found outside us. Rather, it is what remains after shedding our negative beliefs and feelings. Doing the right things, and the consequences that follow, destroy self-doubt and dissolve hurtful emotions. As we grow, we feel increasingly in charge of our life, increasingly in control. And as we empower ourselves, we experience more and more freedom.

Ralph was held back by his shyness. He decided to do something about it; he started with baby steps. Little things like smiling and saying, “Hi” to strangers in the elevator and at the lunch counter. Gradually, his confidence grew until he gained enough courage to do whatever he wished, which included leaving his company for a better job, and meeting, dating, courting, and marrying a wonderful woman.

It may appear that Ralph experienced a gradual growth in courage. But that is not really the case. What actually happened is he experienced a growth in AWARENESS. You see, each courageous step he took did not add to his courage, but merely made him more aware of the courage already present in his spirit. When we believe we are separated from or APART FROM God, we may doubt our power, but if we realize that we are A PART OF God, then we will have an unlimited reservoir of resources to draw upon.

To maximize your freedom, here are two more points to keep in mind. First, at every moment, at this very moment, you are standing at a crossroad. One path leads to more of the same. The other path is one of renewal and change. One path points to the easy way, the other to the right way. One path is about existing, the other about living. One is the path to survival or getting by, the other is the path to growth, freedom, and joy.

The second point is to understand that whatever is possible is not dependent on what we used to be or what we are today. That is, at any moment we can break away from our past and embark on a new journey, the journey of infinite possibilities. It is only when you follow this path that you will discover TRUE freedom.