I chuckled today as I heard an advertisement crafted by British beer company Newcastle Brown Ale.
Comedian Stephen Merchant jokes about what life for American’s would be like had the Brits won the war of independence.
As you can see, the commercial suggests that in lieu of celebrating on the 4th of July, there would be a fictional July 3rd holiday; Brits would boast victory over the traitorous colonials who were foolish and audacious enough to take up arms against the redcoats!
The notion that, had the Brits won, we’d all be telling sophisticated bad jokes with a British accent, bemoaning our socialized economy, calling people “blokes” and drinking Newcastle Brown Ale — is, of course, all in good fun. But the witty ad got me thinking about what freedom really is heading into this 4th of July holiday weekend.
Why Freedom Isn’t Free
We aren’t speaking “British” in America though, and that patriotic phrase “freedom isn’t free” reminds us why. In the context of the republic’s national treasure and lives spent in the cause of freedom, the price is indeed significant. There is simply no way to calculate or quantify the inherent value of freedom. Can you measure the value of not having to face tyranny, repression, communism (or whatever evil lay beyond freedom)? It’s easy to overlook something that we Americans have enjoyed for over 240 years and counting.
This freedom gives us unparalleled choice. From the simple, but profound choices such as the freedom to live where we want, do what we want, and always follow our dreams – no matter how bold or seemingly crazy. We get to choose our educational interests, our productive capacity and how we intend (or not) to contribute to society. We are free to marry whom we love, have more than two children, to speak our minds (mostly), to possess a gun and to choose our leaders (if we have enough money).
These freedoms represent just a few that are enjoyed by Americans, and most others, in civilized society today. And it is this ability to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – one of the most profound statements in the Declaration of Independence – that still draws so many from around the world to this country, even today.
Interestingly, though, when we look back 20 years we can see how some freedoms have eroded. They have been given up in the name of the public’s good, in return for security or good intentioned but out-of-control “well fare” guarantees from the state. These include, among others, the freedom to carry a registered firearm, the freedom to privacy (eroding fast), the freedom to choose a doctor and the freedom to fly places without being made to feel like a suspicious terrorist by the TSA.
Regardless of the lost freedoms, I believe we still have it pretty good. But are the things I listed above really about true freedom? Certainly our external environment has a profound impact on our internal sense of freedom, but what wise person would allow social contracts with nameless bureaucrats to define their freedom, or lack thereof? The patriots didn’t, and nor should we. Freedom is first found within…and then without.
True Freedom Lies Within
When Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, was behind wires in a concentration camp, he had lost almost all of the external measures of freedom we take for granted. He couldn’t leave the compound, he couldn’t move about freely, nor eat, sleep or speak freely.
Most others in that massively unfortunate circumstance perished due to utter desperation that the constriction of freedom brought on. The human spirit craves freedom to express itself and when that freedom is cut off externally, the spirit turns within to find it. But not many have learned how to turn within. Thus when freedom is removed piecemeal, as with eroding freedoms in our society, or in whole as it was with Mr. Frankl, the response is to shut down and shrivel up. In fact, intelligence agents have understood this truth and utilized it with great effect to extract information from enemy prisoners of war.
Mr. Frankl learned to turn within to search for something different. Quite simply, he decided not to play the same game as his captors. Instead, he learned that he had the freedom to choose to retain his sanity and remain free on the inside. What this meant is that he made a choice to not let his mind be captured by the dire circumstances and the brutal people behind those circumstances. This choice to turn for freedom within led to great liberation, and he felt free in spite of his physical incarceration. He then chose to deepen his spiritual strength by serving his fellow prisoners by teaching them to be truly free. Those who learn freedom at this level will never experience, nor tolerate, tyranny or loss of mental freedom again.
In pondering this, I’m reminded of the spiritual notion that whatever we focus on, expands. As Victor, and our forefathers, understood, real freedom comes from within. No one can truly have power over you – not without you first giving up that freedom and power inside.
Eleanor Roosevelt once stated: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And the same is true for freedom. The things I listed above are indeed rights that should be inalienable, but they do not define us as human beings, nor Americans.
So on this 4th of July I encourage you to contemplate this notion that your freedom is a choice – regardless of the external circumstances that define your physical reality. Consider that in today’s abundant world, many people still lack the true freedom that Mr. Frankl experienced in the concentration camp. So please enjoy the 4th of July weekend – yet take a moment to ask whether you have tapped the true freedom that lies within – the freedom to be happy, peaceful and complete regardless of what is going on around you.
And nobody can take that freedom from you.
Train hard, stay safe and have fun. Hooyah!