What is Freedom?

Freedom is often conceived of as freedom from something—from control, from rules, from inhibitions. That is the freedom we long for when we are young; to be free from the supervision of parents and teachers. Later, we long for the freedom of retirement. No more alarm clocks, frantic commutes, bosses, or long hours of the daily grind.

Many of our ancestors came to this country for freedom, and they, as well as
the more recent generations of immigrants, are more aware of it than those of us who
were born and raised here. As the poem “Freedom” says, “What freeman knoweth freedom?”

But, once achieved, freedom from school, work, or other people’s rules, can feel flat. We become bored, and it doesn’t take long to realize we are free from–whatever–but to do what? Until we realize we are free to give ourselves our own rules and our own purpose.  Without a purpose or a goal, freedom is just, as the song says, ‘nothing left to lose.’

Even the wind is chained to the earth, the earth to the sun, the moon to the earth, and so on. The wind chimes in the back yard swing freely, making their music as the wind blows through them, but they are tethered. Without the tether, they would just be a pile of metal tubes lying, uselessly, on the ground.


What freeman knoweth freedom? Never he
Whose father’s father through long lives have reigned
O’er kingdoms which mere heritage attained.
Though from his youth to age he roam as free
As winds, he dreams not freedom’s ecstasy.
But he whose birth was in a nation chained
For centuries; where every breath was drained
From breasts of slaves which knew not there could be
Such thing as freedom, – he beholds the light
Burst, dazzling; though the glory blind his sight
He knows the joy. Fools laugh because he reels
And wields confusedly his infant will;
The wise man watching with a heart that feels
Says: ‘Cure for freedom’s harms is freedom still.’

Helen Hunt Jackson

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