There has been much talk recently about freedom. 

We’ve seen unrest, anger, and anguish about our freedom being taken away. Our freedom to move around at will, our freedom to travel, our freedom to be without masks … 

One can argue that people have a right to be free, a right to rebel, a right to protest, a right to free speech … But what happens when this freedom puts others in danger? When what is said and done causes anguish, sickness, death … When one person’s freedom becomes someone else’s prison … Do people still have that right?

A 91 year old lady with short grey hair and sunglasses, wearing a leopard skin patterned scarf and a salmon, brown, beige and white striped shirt and mushroom-coloured pants, sits in a small tree  at a park, smiling at the camera.

I was discussing this fact with my mother. My mother is 91, has lived through a large variety of experiences including three years as a prisoner of war, and has her own view on freedom. Freedom for her is not just doing whatever you want, freedom is being responsible for the actions you take. 

You can’t have freedom without responsibility. Maybe, in turn, taking responsibility gives you freedom. Perhaps, when you have responsibility, there is positivity, some control over what happens and when, personal strength and resilience. 

Think about when you were a child and were given responsibility to put out the bins, feed the dog, walk your younger sibling to school, dry the dishes (yes, this used to be done by hand), tidy your room … There is a feeling of pride that can come with this responsibility, a feeling of being in control of that task, satisfaction in a job well done, independence, freedom ….

A three year old girl wearing a bright, flowery pink raincoat, pink leggings, pink gumboots and a woolen, bobbly beanie stomps down a muddy road whilst holding hands with a lady dressed in blue jeans, a blue and white striped jumper, a green beanie, grey gloves and green gumboots.

So, if you are talking about freedom that puts others in danger or causes anguish for those around us, it seems that this is freedom without responsibility. Is that really freedom at all? According to the dictionary it could be – “freedom is the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.”

And to me, there it is … “the power or right” … but that does not mean that one should.

Sigmund Freud agrees with my mother about freedom involving responsibility. He goes further to say that “most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” Maybe as we get older, responsibility becomes more intense and we can lose sight of the benefits that responsibility brings.

Some responsibilities are only ours for a relatively short time … younger siblings walk to school independently, you get a dishwasher, you have your own kids who can help feed the dog. Some responsibilities last a bit longer, like raising children or caring for elderly relatives. 

There are some responsibilities however, that are with us for life. How about the way we live in society … the way we treat others … the way our actions and our words affect those around us and beyond? How do those responsibilities affect or reflect what we see as our freedom?

Peter Marshall, a Scottish-American preacher from the early 20th century, had his take on freedom: “May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

That seems a pretty good thought to me … now we just need to determine what is right ….

About the Author

Engel Prendergast, Mental Health Consultant, Mental Strides

Engel Prendergast is a Mental Health Consultant, working with organisations and groups to build a culture that supports good mental health.

Engel is an accredited Mental Health First Aid and safeTALK Instructor, and Lifeline Crisis Supporter and Mentor. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Health Promotion), Diploma of Counselling, and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment.

With natural compassion, a determination to help others and extensive experience in training and facilitation, Engel provides an environment that fosters learning and ownership.

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