Wednesday, October 26, 2005


What is freedom? Marriam Webster's offers a few definitions, but the most fitting one for this post is "the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action." Forget the dictionary definition for a moment, let's look at what most people generally define as freedom.

Some people say that freedom is the ability to do whatever you want, that seems like the most common answer. "Freedom is a life without limitations" seems to be the simplest and most direct view. Every different individual can define (and most will) freedom in a variant way due to the areas of their life that they feel are restricted, coerced, or constrained, therefore the real-life applications of freedoms are basically unlimited. I don't see a need to go into them because you, the reader, can imagine your own definition of freedom in response (and in opposition) to your vision of constraint (although you can also define "constraint" in opposition to your vision of freedom). Chances are that most people will, as a default, define "freedom" as the opposite of that which they define as "constraint."


Some people, probably many, in our society here in America, hold the belief that freedom is obstructed by structure (obstruct - structure), i.e., that structure is constraint. I'm not talking about our freedoms as Americans, for example, for that is a topic in and of itself, but am referring to behavior that falls within the realm of legality, such as how you live your life (where do I go on the weekends, etc...) The word "structure" is a neutral word, yet for many people that are looking to maximize the amount of freedom that they have in their lives (many times) "structure" serves as the antithesis of their ideal life; living off the cuff and spontaneously is the way to define freedom.

Making no mistakes about it, many people conclude that yes, structure is an essential part of life, for even those who desire pure freedom need structure (when to get up in the morning, when to go to sleep, for example). But all in all, structure is an element extraneous to freedom, i.e., it is only necessary to the parts of life that are not associated with enjoyment, such as school, work, and generally all responsibility; if one were to apply structure to enjoyment, it would deteriorate. In other words, structure applies only to the parts of life that come with responsibility, whereas in the enjoyment realm, a structureless perspective is preferred.

Freedom through Structure

This seems like an oxymoron. The reality of it, however, is that even though freedom is enjoyable, an over-abundance of it has an adverse effect; what actually begins to happen is that the sheer range of options reduces the opportunity to choose. Because decision-making becomes hinged on availability of these options rather than insightful decison on the quality of available options, i.e., the best ones, the chooser becomes imprisoned, in a matter of speaking, by a plethora of choices. As a result, the individual chooses what seems to be the best option and then pursues it. In other words, because the realm of possibilities is so vast and multiplitous, of which many choices appeal to the senses and are alluring, the individual makes his or her choice through a lens of influence (due to quantity and character) and not through consideration. Since freedom is associated with, perhaps defined by, availability of choices, the individual cannot make beneficial choices to him or herself and therefore becomes enclosed in the illusion that sheer variety is freedom. In other words, the individual wants no limits and no contstraints, and as a result, actually severely constrains his or her decision-making abilities, and ultimately, the attainment of joy and peace of mind.


If this is true, then "structure" is not the right word, nor is "limits" nor "boundaries," for there is no way to present those words without making freedom-seekers cringe, but rather "filter." By reducing options, one is able to perceive and decide between things with more clarity than one would otherwise be able to. The freedom-seeker's initial anxiety is that a reduction of available choices will surely reduce the ability to find joy, and it is a real anxiety for many people begin to describe reduction of choice as suffocation, even though it is an exaggeration.

Experiencing joy is more than possible within a chosen set of limitations because the range of possibilities in the realm of human existence is so vast that there must be certain choices that create more negativity in the individual's life than positivity; causing frustration, anger, confusion, etc, difficulties that require from the individual to give, but do not give back.

A certain rabbi that I know made the analogy of a baseball field; there is a fence enclosing a baseball field, and even though there is a place where the field ends, one can still hit a homerun and a play an entire game inside. In other words, nobody needs a limitless amount of expanse to live their life to the fullest, for both our bodies and our souls only take up a finite amount of space. You can sprint until you're tired in an area of ten miles just as efficiently as you can in an area of one mile.


So if one deems a filter to be beneficial to existence and joy, where should the filter be set up; what should the individual decide to filter out and what should he or she allow to come through? Now it becomes a matter of decision on what values the individual wants to uphold or to reject, and then he or she establishes the filter(s) based on these ethics. This can only be achieved through an examination of the individual's own position in the world, ultimately leading the individual to assign either meaning or meaninglessness to elements of reality.