Personal Freedom

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December 26, 2006

I don't think anyone can deny that today there is a tremendous initiation of force being exerted by government at all levels in almost all nations. Some people, probably most, don't recognize it for the evil that it is. They'd say government and its cloaked coercion is 'for our own good,' but if pressed, most would at least agree that it is present.

I'm becoming more and more aware that there is also a subtle use of force that permeates every aspect of life by most people whom I encounter. Amazingly, I think most people, if questioned, would utterly deny its existence. I'd describe it as being as deeply ingrained as breathing, walking or talking - things which are seldom thought about, much less discussed.

Because we home school, or rather 'unschool,' my kids have the luxury of reflection. They have time and opportunity to question conventionality, to experiment, and to imagine possibilities. Recently my daughter asked me, 'What if this life is just a dream?'

The Aborigines of Australia refer to life as 'a dream time.' As practical as it is in my nature to think and behave, as I age I find that I too spend more time questioning things as they are or seem to be. The most important thing to question is one's self; more specifically, to make an examination of the heart rather than an exercise of the mind.

I find that it is vital as a mother, friend, neighbor, or whatever kind of fellow human being, that I exercise restraint from using force in my relationships. I must vigilantly take complete responsibility for myself at all times. I must examine myself and then be honest about what I find. When I take complete responsibility for myself and for my experience of life in this way, it frees me from being victimized by life. It also frees those around me from being held intellectually hostage by me, in other words, subtly coerced into somehow trying to 'make' me happy.

My Mother modeled for us kids and had cultural support for the role of women as sacrificial caregivers to the family. She operated squarely on the 'victim principle,' the same bizarre, dysfunctional power trip operating on a grand scale in politics today.

Here's how it worked: by our behavior, we made Mom and Dad either 'happy' or 'unhappy,' a tremendous responsibility for another human being, much less a child. What was expected of us was never written on the refrigerator, but we were never off the hook because of our ignorance of the details. We were somehow expected to divine what it was that others wanted from us and to go about doing it. This was the entire purpose of our existence, and the implied definition of 'love.'

Also unspoken was the implication that if we were successful in our divination and execution of these mysterious tasks, that others would then be willing to divine what it was that we wanted, and proceed to procure it and provide it to us. We were never allowed to ask direct questions, it was considered rude of children, as was asking for things. If you ask for something, and it cannot be provided, then someone else might feel uncomfortable, so don't ask. We were not given choices; my parents considered it too much responsibility for children! Somehow, with no practice, we were supposed to hit the magic age of 21 and suddenly know how to make good choices. The word 'no' was not in my vocabulary. In this way, were we transformed into a brigade of people pleasers, completely devoid of a relationship with our own hearts and desires, a painful, pointless existence.

Having our own aspirations became a terrible secret and induced guilt and fear of being found out as committing the sins of pride and selfishness; high crimes then, much like individualists in the political world today. I'm convinced that this mentality set me up for intellectual dependency on those in power. Luckily, it also rubbed me the wrong way and gave me a lot of cognitive dissonance. It was torture, but I did what I had to do at the time to get by.

My Dad refused to measure up to my Mother's expectations of fulfilling this insidious demand on their relationship, and so often found himself in the dog house. I think Mom considered it some flaw in Dad's character that he couldn't imagine what it was she wanted after she'd bent over backwards managing his everyday life. Either that, or he just didn't love her. I think she was wrong, he did love her, he was just handicapped in the E.S.P. department, and, of course, spoiled into thinking she should be bending over backwards managing the mundane for him.

I was never successful at this insane endeavor, either. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to be perfect, I was a constant disappointment to my Mother. It took me years to figure all this out well enough to articulate it, but no one ever said I'm not stubborn. It was the most painful of transformations to learn to please myself, who is really the only one that anyone can please. I love and care for people in my life today, but I don't nail myself to a cross for them. I hung up my superwoman cape years ago. (I still keep it on a nail by the door in case of emergency, but it doesn't fit me anymore, and only really serves to prove to me just how ill fitting self sacrifice is.)

Insanity runs in families, so before I had figured it out, I had decided to try this unsuccessful program, which hadn't work for my parents, on my unsuspecting husband. Luckily he didn't 'get' the game either. I knew that my husband loved me, so I was forced to ask him, at one point, why he was not picking up on my 'hints;' the only appropriate means of making one's wishes known, or so I had been trained to believe. 'Hints? What hints? Don't give me any hints, clobber me over the head when you want something.'

This was a turning point for me. I knew I had to find another way to get on in the world. I had to learn to ask directly for what I wanted--a foreign, terrifying concept to me. I also had to learn to accept 'no' for an answer, without it meaning anything other than a return to the drawing board for Retta and figuring out how to get my emotional needs met. Luckily I had begun this vital work before I completely ruined my children.

When I am unhappy, it isn't anyone else's fault. If I look hard enough I can always find a point where I could have made a better choice for myself, the very definition of learning.

For instance, as a mother, I often find myself in volunteer situations. If I do more than I can do comfortably, I feel 'taken advantage of.' However, 'taken advantage of' is not a feeling. It is a thought. Upon examination, I realize that I'm the one who is responsible to decide how much I can do. No one else possibly can. I cannot divine what it is that other people want or need. They are responsible to ask for help, I am responsible for my response. Even though saying 'no' is still difficult for me, I'm getting better at it.

You might wonder why someone would do more than they comfortably can. It needs to be done? I want my child's project to be successful? I want people to like/admire me? I think I'm Superwoman? I'm an egomaniac who doesn't like limitations? I didn't really think it through because this is a new situation or I had too many other things on my mind that day? I rely on my default strategy of abandoning my own self to please other people? Pick a reason. Regardless of which one it is, when I move away from being responsible for my own well being, I slip back into the illusion that someone else must be responsible for my unhappiness. I am no longer free, and neither are those around me who are willing to play this game. The emotional door swings wide open for dependency upon government, anything or anyone willing to shoulder responsibility for my well-being.

That crazy game now brings me physical discomfort. I can feel the tension in my body when I step over the line and I have to stop what I'm doing. This is the beauty of consciousness. (I certainly don't like when other people try to lay their responsibilities on me! Talk about tension!)

When I refuse to lay responsibility for my own happiness on another person, I return to conscious awareness and I am free. My happiness is not dependent on the whim of another. Those around me, like it not, then become completely responsible for their own happiness. They also become free to succeed or fail. If they insist that you can 'make' them happy or unhappy, then they have failed.

Personal freedom (is there any other kind?) has a crisp quality. It requires vigilance. No set of social manners or bureaucratic laws can do the job for you, and it is a fool's game to hope for it to arrive from somewhere outside of you. When you see the truth about yourself and your own illusions, you begin to see the truth about the rest of the world. It's truly the road less traveled. We're all just looking for love, so if you just choose to begin at that place of love, the rest comes easy.

Conversely, government is intrinsically based on the initiation of force. Trying to work within a system of coercion to change the nature of it is futile. If we are to return to a modicum of liberty as human beings, what must take place is an intimate, internal exercise of honesty and willingness, with only the most tender of affection for ourselves. The effect goes out into the world like a pebble tossed into a still pond. Let me explain.

Have you ever run into an old friend and noticed an inexplicable change in them? Perhaps it's a shift in the way they view life or their interaction with the world? Often this kind of thing happens after a catastrophic illness or loss. Someone who is 'knocked down' has a paradigm shift. Does each of us need trauma, a health disaster or brush with jack-booted government thugs, to have such a shift?

It can be challenging to let another person out of the psychological box in which you've unconsciously categorized them, to bring your regard for another into the level of consciousness. It's hard enough to accomplish a shift in perception of our own place in the world, but to encounter resistance to a personal maturation of this kind from those around us makes it next to impossible.

It is also essential that we give other people the room to examine and, more importantly, shift their own perception of themselves, the world, and their place in it. We accomplish this by modeling it, always with love. Can we give each other, not just the example of how it is done, but can we give each other the room to expand our thinking and choices of living? Giving other people the intellectual space to adjust their feelings, thoughts and actions, however differently from your own, promotes freedom in the world with a solid foundation; the kind of freedom that the terrorists in Washington can't hope to eradicate no matter how hard they try.

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Retta Fontana's picture
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Retta Fontana lives in the Great Smoky Mountains. Children are her favorite people. She loves to connect with readers - please writer to her here: