Say freedom and you picture unfurling flags and chest-thumping patriots screaming slogans. To me, an average citizen, freedom means to be myself – warts and comical bits included.
Empowerment to me is being able to live in a world where it doesn’t matter if I am male or female, belong to any faith, am black, white, rich, or poor; I should be able to wake up safe and happy, focus on making myself and others so, work hard and better my circumstances. Not just on every national holiday.
When we glance at our own families and communities with a sense of humour, we can see that our ‘ONLY way to do things’, is merely one of the many ways.
And some of us with a sense of humour can never be fully dominated – we will preserve a measure of our freedom – if not of movement, at least of thought.
The enemy does not want us free. Remember that. Christ died to set me free. To me, freedom is love and respect combined. Love can vane, respect should never.
Our grandparents and parents – though they supposedly lived during a time when the country wasn’t really free, played on the streets, made friends with random strangers, drank water from the wells and climbed trees. We kids of the 80s and 90s shared some of those liberties.
As a child growing up in the Middle East, freedom was never curtailed. We played on dusty lanes, ate shawarma and survived with our smattering knowledge of Arabic. Life in India seemed simpler, kids happier. May be not so today. With technology and plastic came an unsafe environment; with TV, gadgets and nuclear homes with two working parents came families cooped up in front of the TV and kids glued to their mobile devices.
After growing up very much protected and being a mum today, I think our kids need the freedom to talk. They need quality time and ways to express themselves; our tots or teenagers should be able to tell us what they are truly feeling, without initiating a full-blown family drama.
Do our teens have the freedom to express their frustrations with study, work, housework, family or school? Can they challenge our behaviour, our faith or our actions that may be contrary to what we preach?
I am not encouraging disrespectful behaviour or door-slamming tantrums. But as the famous quote goes, “the natural free spirits of ingenious men, if imprisoned or controlled, will find other ways of motion to relieve themselves in their constraint; and whether it be burlesque, mimicry or buffoonery, they will be glad at any rate to vent themselves, and be revenged on their constrainers…It is the persecuting spirit that has raised the bantering one.”
Adults, both women and men, need freedom – at work – to pick their team, to be paid equally, speak firmly to their clients, team, bosses and co-workers if something is not done right. Without being given the bossy tag. I have seen many ventures breaking halfway through because one of the parties felt the other had done something wrong which could not be discussed anymore. If there is no healthy communication or rather, the freedom for it, we will never get anywhere.
At work, we need the freedom to do our jobs well, without being threatened by ignorant bosses, even more ignorant ‘friends of the boss’ and chauvinistic colleagues, with added nepotism to deal with. To me, that’s freedom at the grassroots level. Everybody speaks about freedom for communities and nations, but hardly anyone speaks up for the freedom of the vulnerable friend, wife, colleague, child or elderly parent. Everyone wants to save the world, the environment, the dolphins (great, I love them) but nobody wants to save the ones living with them and their absurdities.
At home, people need the freedom to be themselves. Irony – the same partner who fights for you against your bullying colleague, may not support you if the other party is his/her family, church or boss. C’est la vie? No, we need respect to fan the flames of love. We should stimulate healthy conversations and bring whatever is suppressed to light, so that we as a loving family unit, can come up with solutions (please get your partner’s permission before you begin…)
As a Christian, Jesus gave me the privilege to LOVE like HE did. That does not give me the right to look down on anyone or worse, put a tag on anyone who sins different than me.
That also does not mean that I will hide and tolerate injustice, crime or corruption that needs to be exposed. Many people find the “exclusivist” claims of Christ to be offensive. But you know what? I have the right to share it. But as a Christian woman from a Hindu country, raised in the Middle East, I also have the freedom to have a Muslim best friend and to love and be loved by Hindu neighbours. Jesus is my only God, master and saviour. That does not mean I cannot pray for or love people of other faiths as my very own. You may not agree with what I say or believe, but that should not mean that we can’t get along. We were created by God equal. Live and help live.
Freedom in friendship is a treasure. It does not guarantee the right to be rude, brutish, obnoxious, hateful or the worst, backstab. A racist, sexist, bigot may feel offended just by me being there, just existing in their presence. But I can’t not exist, can I? The willingness to meet people, listen, get the view of others, as well as the ability to express them and man up and speak up for the wounded, is what lies at the heart of free expression.
Unintentional slights can be excused and forgiven…usually due to a lack of understanding of norms (Talking of diets where the combined weight of the family would beat a tonga truck…been there, done that) But, we often witness very deliberate, provocative, demeaning and intentional humiliation. THESE types of freedom must not be accepted or condoned. That’s not free speech, that is verbal abuse. (Note: I hate friends, spouses, parents, children, colleagues putting each other down, especially in public)
My personal belief – blatant lies, hate speech, propaganda for war, invasion of privacy, defamation and incitement to violence should be the criteria for legal limits placed on freedom of expression. Or do you support freedom as long as it does not offend YOU? Of course I will be offended when you say my beliefs are wrong, especially when I believe whatever I believe, with a passion. But that doesn’t make them any less wrong, or me any less stupider for believing them. This is why freedom of speech in particular, is very important – people need healthy and logical arguments to discern what’s true and right.
People today can be attacked, imprisoned or even killed for daring to follow a different ideology, for sharing their faith, or for suggesting they want a democratic government. I find it offensive that the majority of decisions in a country, institution and sometimes families are made by a small group of people who can shut out the views of large swathes of the population.
Our freedom ends, as it must…when our freedom causes pain or harm to another. Freedom is NOT a license to do or say whatever we want. Freedom entails great and grave responsibilities – to God first, to your family, friends, strangers and even little children.
Our freedom is a sacred inheritance, handed down to us by God. And won by the blood and toil of people who fought hard, for us to live free. They were willing to lose their lives in pursuing that freedom for us.
Honour their sacrifices.
By Linda Joseph Kavalackal,
Christ & Co.