I have spent a long time in my life confusing freedom and independence. I recently distinguished for myself the difference between the two. And when I distinguished it for myself – a whole new world of being human opened up. Stated simply:
- Independence is the ability to be and do, without barriers / obstruction / constraint from others
- Freedom is the ability to be and do, without barriers / obstruction / constraint from oneself
The distinctions are so similar that it is easy to confuse freedom with independence and vice-versa. Just because we have freedom, doesn’t mean we have independence. And just because we have independence doesn’t mean we have freedom. One can experience (or create) freedom even when one is not independent.
I have confused freedom and independence a lot. Whenever, I have experienced a lack of freedom – I have made it mean “lack of independence”. And the tools I use for dealing with lack of independence are drastically insufficient (or even inappropriate) to deal with the lack of freedom.
- To deal with lack of independence, we use struggle. Struggle gets manifested as proving something, fighting (verbally or physically) for something, making someone wrong, passing judgement or making sarcastic remarks, experiencing being a victim and resisting (or fighting) that and so on.
- To deal with lack of freedom, we use choice. Choice is one of the most profound exercise of all human faculties available to us. It is the ability to say here I stand, with no strings attached. Werner Erhard once said something to this effect: “Power is the ability to make full use of all human faculties. Power is simply the expression of one’s freedom.” One can almost say that being free is akin to being powerful.
When we use the means for dealing with independence for dealing with freedom – we get nowhere. Infact we get to experience more and even more a victim.
For example: I want to go share with somebody, an idea that I have. I believe that my idea is good and impactful. However, when I take my first step forward to actually go and share the idea; I hold myself back because of conversations in my head like – “will he like it?”, “what if she steals my and makes it her own?”, “what if he thinks of me as stupid?”, “what if my idea is actually stupid/immature?” and so on. This is a classic example of my own constraints (in this case conversations) holding me back from what I want to do. Ergo lack of freedom.
But I make it all about lack of independence. And to deal with that, I go about saying – “people are not receptive to new ideas”, “no one understands me”, “there is no safe forum for people to express their ideas”, “venture capital investors don’t understand the genius of my idea”, “no one gives me a chance”, “the society is rather bad at the moment” and so on. And life becomes a struggle about fixing and changing the society or the world out there.
But there have been moments – when I caused myself to deal with lack of freedom as lack of freedom. And I exercised a genuine quality of being human: CHOICE. In making that choice – I experienced freedom to be and to act. I have experienced (though only in glimpses here and there) the freedom to be responsible, the freedom to be held to account, the freedom to confront and have uncomfortable conversations, the freedom to stretch myself and work harder, the freedom to hold another to account and so on.
But such exercise of Choice and experience of Freedom is rare. Why?
When I inquired into this for a while – I realized that for some reason I can’t stand freedom. I would much rather complain about independence and struggle for it than be an expression of total freedom. (Sometimes I feel that the people who fought our political and economic independence struggle, experienced more freedom while being ruled by the Brits than we are right now. But that’s another rant and/or story.)
I distinguished for myself that the reason I can’t handle freedom (or power) is because it comes with responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin.
“With great power comes great responsibility” – Spiderman’s Uncle Ben!
The degree to which I take responsibility for the choices I make is the degree to which I am free.