The word “freedom” has been so misused – from the freedom to drive as fast as we want via freedom fighters to the freedom to marry. To me freedom does not mean to be allowed to go down the well-trodden road, to live the status quo. That’s easy. To me freedom means to be encouraged in going down the new and narrow path, to create new ways of living without being told that this is wrong or undoable but rather by being supported with the basics, like a livable wage and health care.
This means that I have the freedom to be single without the negative consequences of not getting the 1,100+ rights married folks enjoy. It includes the freedom to leave my job if it isn’t satisfying without the negative consequence of loosing my health insurance. Without a fair and equitable social safety net, freedom is impossible because we cannot freely choose to avoid the status quo, especially when we are single, a way of living more of us are embracing. That is, freedom requires that we acknowledge our interdependence and take care of each other – both through building more resilient networks as well as through changes in what the government supports so that no particular form of living is treated preferentially, like being married or not currently is.
Many will argue that we can choose, we just have to accept the consequences. True. I am free to cut off my arm, too. The consequences of exercising our freedom by choosing to be single or to leave our jobs make the choice almost as foolish as cutting off a limb (especially in this economic environment). The safety net, if we can even call it that, which exists in the US does not support individual freedom and certainly prevents our independence since we’re dependent on employers for our health insurance rather than interdependent as a society that provides a safety net to all of us. Current societal structures exert normative pressure. Thus, the government supports the status quo and punishes those who dare to step outside by pulling the safety net out from under us. And as Michael Warner points out, it’s pretty much impossible for any of us to measure up to all the normative pressure on us. We are all not normal in one way or another (something Brené Brown also stresses to counteract the shame that arises whenever we step out of the normativity of the status quo). Accepting that fact would allow us to embrace our interdependence even with people who may choose to do things we don’t agree with.
On a personal level, I would like to free myself from societal expectations of living my life a certain way, that is, attain inner freedom. For example, I want independence from the notion that I have to make a certain amount of money, live a certain way, and participate in the insane idea of growth, in order to be considered successful. I’ve tried that and didn’t feel successful. Now I define success as living an authentic life, of pursuing what is important to us. Yet, I’ve spent the first 40 years of my life pursuing the success definitions of others. I am working on gaining independence from my need to do that. I do that by choosing to be single (aware of the negative consequences), for example, while building a support network that celebrates my interdependence with others because I belief that none of us can ever live truly independently.
So, freedom and independence contain both internal and external elements. Society can enable us to obtain freedom by offering a safety net – something that all of us create to support each other. We can gain independence for ourselves by letting go of normative ideas that force us into certain molds that do not fit us well. And embedding interdependence into our lives enables both because it gives us the freedom to live the lives we yearn for, which can include more independence from normative pressures.
If that’s how we view things, I’d be happy to call on all of us to fight for our right to be free!