The Meaning of Freedom
To a fourth grader at Fishing Creek Elementary School, freedom means, “Free to wear fake mustaches” (Curtis, 2011). Freedom, to a first grader at Dysart Elementary, means, “Not having to do work inside a little room. Instead we should go out and do the stuff we are learning” (Travis, 2014). The word, freedom, defines many things in each of us logistically, in our physical health, our spiritual walk, and our finances. To entire ethnicities it means absence from cruelty or death. In this essay we discuss the word as it affects a civil/social level which encompasses people in relationship to one another and in society.
The term, individual freedom, denotes a singular implication, but individual freedom in society is not separable. History continues to prove that freedoms in a society are not individual, but collective. Nelson Mandela wrote, “Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all of my people were the chains on me” as he realized his personal freedom alone did not give him satisfaction. Many of the writings from Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Langston Hughes continuously point to the protecting, preserving and upholding of human dignity and the development of personality. Dr. King wrote, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever” while he sat in a small cell in a Birmingham jail. He continued, “The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained” (King, 1963). Oppression can come in the form of race, color, sex, but also from economic status, sexual orientation, abusive or controlling partner, academic and other social failure. In addressing the United Nations, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed the need “to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” The concept of freedom in a civilization should not be self-seeking. Individual freedom could mean self-serving behavior having negative consequences on others. For example, the costs of second-hand smoke can cause health risks in those around those smokers who are exercising their individual free will. Freedom from moral conscience in one’s choices can impinge on another’s freedoms. A local coach who is father and husband takes liberty to emotionally and sexually seduce a student leaves heavy consequences rippling through a community and a school, but more importantly leaves scars of distrust in the young woman, disgraces his wife and humiliates his children. There is a great deal of responsibility that comes with freedom in the social/civil breadth.