Beyond Freedom

Johannesburg, South Africa

I reached Johannesburg earlier this week subject to that ‘just arrived malaise’ that often hits me upon landing in a new city. I always acknowledge that I’ve travelled far and it’s okay to be tired, while another part of me jumps straight to aggressive self-judgment:  “You are only in this city for so long!  You should go out and experience it!  Why are you laying on your bed?!”  While I have learned to quiet that inner voice full of “should,” I nonetheless feel fairly awful if I haven’t ventured out of my hotel by the end of the day.  So I touched down, took a much-needed nap, knocked out some work, and rallied.

My first and only stop was the Apartheid Museum, an elegant and well-executed history of apartheid in South Africa.

Between the mock-ups of Mandiba’s jail cell and the ‘Europeans Only’ signs, the part of the museum which stuck me most was the struggle of it all. Hundreds, thousands of people dead in the fight.  Such intractable reluctance to give up power.  An almost inconceivable investment of energy, emotion, and life to secure what I naively see as the basic, universal right to freedom.

In truth, freedom has been hard-fought – not just in South Africa’s recent past, but in our continuing global present. Freedom is not a right that is won, but instead a daily reality which we must continue to bring into existence.

But what happens when we are so fortunate as to feel secure in that freedom?  What next?  Where do we direct our energies when the exhausting fight for freedom is done?

One definition of freedom is “the power or liberty to order one’s own actions.” This definition necessarily elicits the next question:  With the liberty to order our actions, how should we do so?  And to what end?

We of course have different goals – different definitions of happiness, purpose, meaning, or fulfillment.  Yet I would propose that whatever our goals, we articulate them clearly and pursue them consciously.  Freedom gives us the right to choose.  Intentionality means that, when exercising that sacred freedom, we do so conscious of the world we want to create for ourselves and others.  (See earlier post on the definition of intentionality here.)

With all the struggle that goes into securing freedom, it seems disrespectful and almost amoral that we would exercise that freedom in anything but the most thoughtful way possible, consciously creating ourselves into the people we want to be and thoughtfully crafting the world in which we want to live.  What is beyond freedom?  Intentionality. 


Image“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 
-Nelson Mandela


1 Comment

  1. I spent this Passover in the wilderness outside of Death Valley, where I did a lot of reflection on “freedom.” On Passover, we celebrate freedom FROM things (e.g., the pharaoh). But what I realized is that we only have freedom FROM anything if we have freedom TO do something to replace it. When I heard Piper Kerman of “Orange is the New Black” speak, she discussed how prisoners who finished their sentences had freedom to leave, but because they didn’t have freedom to work, in practice, or psychological freedom to live independently, they quickly ended up back in the prisons from whence they came.

    This is the story of Passover on some level, as well. They had freedom from slavery, technically, but didn’t have a conception of freedom to… do what? to live how? When the slightest moment of insecurity arose, they built the golden calf and wandered in the desert for 40 years.

    I guess this is where intentionally is about… helping to define the “freedom to,” which has to go hand-in-hand with the “freedom from” for true liberation to take place.


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