Multiple Freedoms

When we talk about freedom, we are usually not specific about the exact type of freedom we are referencing. Freedom exists, or does not, on multiple levels: personal, institutional, political, and spiritual.

Personal freedom reflects the everyday choices that we make about our lives. It is how we choose to spend our time, how we choose to feel, how we choose to think, and how we choose to act. It is an intrinsic freedom which we all inherently possess, but it is contoured by institutional and political freedom. It can also be confined by other individuals who limit our freedom through abuse outside of those systems.

Institutional freedom reflects the ability we have to make decisions in the organizations and groups to which we belong such as our workplace, community organizations, or religious community. Political freedom is granted to us by the nation in which we live. Institutional and political freedom are conditional and structural. The amount of freedom each person has is based on her or his place in the system which may or may not be negotiable.

Spiritual freedom reflects an unlimited resource that is within our souls. It comes from a place that unites us all. Because this freedom is unlimited, access is unrestricted and we are all equally entitled to enjoy it. Spiritual freedom represents our rights as human beings inhabiting the earth.

My Week: Litter

Yesterday morning, I cleaned out the back of my car only to find that someone left a half full soda bottle on the floor. I often come home to find that someone has left their garbage at my curb, in my yard, or even in my recycling bin. At my workplace, cleaning up the garbage the blows by or is casually dropped in front or in back of the building is a continuous chore.

Like the trash that surrounds me, my mind is similarly cluttered with litter. Unhappy memories, insincere intentions, guilt, shame, and worry take up what would otherwise be pristine space in my precious mind.

Our inner and outer words are mutually reflective. It may be no surprise, then, that my home and my office are full of unnecessary things to which I am attached for both sentimental and practical reasons. Stuff, both real and imagined, surrounds me and saturates my emotional-cognitive processes.

There is a lot of litter that I would be quite happy to remove from my view. All of the dirty and now useless trash that I encounter throughout the day can gladly go away. The litter in my mind, however, is a bit more difficult to purge. While I feel ready to let it all go to create more space and freedom, it seems to keep coming back. It is like the wine glass in The Bishop’s Wife that magically refills whenever it is emptied; however, this glass is full of poison.

Perhaps the process of creating space consists of two steps – not just letting go, but also holding that space open. We can resist the inclination to put something in that space, whether we judge it to be good or bad, and just allow it to be free and breezy. By creating and maintaining open space, our minds will become less cluttered and more clear.

Headbanger’s Rule #8: Be the Rainbow

Dio’s Rainbow in the Dark is another one of my favorite songs and videos. In this song, singer Ronnie James Dio reminds us of the magical potential in natural phenomena such as lightening and rainbows and, perhaps more importantly, that such magic is buried deep inside us if only we can let go and set it free. Rather than be oppressed by the dark, we ought to dance toward the light – and allow the light within us to shine bright.

Headbanger’s Rule #7: Taking a Chance

One of my favorite songs is Judas Priest’s Heading out to the Highway. I also love the video. Yes, I’m a bit of a tomboy. Anyway, the entire song is really inspirational. Early in the song, the lyrics state, “you get nothing for nothing, expect it when you’re backseat driving and your hands ain’t on the wheel,” and later, “I’m gonna do it my way, take a chance before I fall.” You really should just listen to the whole song. The gist of it is that we should fully engage in life without being afraid of failure; if we fall, we can bring ourselves back up again. We should take risks, perhaps safer ones than those portrayed in the video, so that we can realize our full human potential.

Charity Police

Philanthropic organizations are increasingly demanding that grantees measure impact. It is not the measuring of impact to which I object, it is the way this expectation is unidirectionally communicated and enforced. This paternalistic practice is an abuse of power that emphasizes control and containment over partnership and possibilities.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is an amazing example of trusting philanthropy (and I hope to be one someday!). Grantees are selected according to their contributions and are then trusted to make decisions about the best use of the funds; reports are not required. As a teacher, I take a similar approach with my students in the community or online setting. I expect students to take what we learn in class and to use it to the best of their ability in their context. My hope is to inspire change that can’t be captured in numbers or even words, and to provoke changes that are multiplicative.

With trust and freedom, great things will happen. Let’s share with each other out of love rather than fear.