November 9 every year is a very important day for Americans and many other people all over the world. The World Freedom Day, as it is called, was first commemorated in 2001 to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of communism in parts of Europe. Today, it is a symbol of all that we can point a finger to and call ‘Freedom’? But what exactly is freedom for you?
Freedom means many things to different people. In the days of slavery, nothing brought joy to a slave more than to know that he or she would no longer provide forced labor to a master. Many slaves had died while trying to escape their cruel owners. Those who managed to escape lived as fugitives, dreading the day they would be captured and taken back to their masters.
Freedom to a slave meant more than stopping to offer forced labour on cotton and sugarcane farms. The worst form of slavery was mental suffering. The very idea and feeling that one’s fate was in the hands of another person was appalling. When the pain of a collection of people under slavery became too much to bear, they revolted, as happened in the Caribbean Islands and other places. People preferred to live in poverty than to be owned and oppressed.
Freedom means being able to determine what will happen to you. That was not the case with colonised nations. The histories of colonisation are complete with accounts of peasants who took up arms to fight powerful, well-armed and trained militaries of occupying nations. To many people, fighting modern armies with crude weapons was suicidal. However, the oppressed were willing to pay any price for freedom.
Contemporary societies may not be fighting for physical freedom, but we still have various forms of slavery. The fight for democracy did not come easy for many nations. Autocratic rule is gradually coming to an end, but the fight for equal rights for all people came at a price. Many prodemocracy fighters were killed, jailed or injured for life. But there are places where people still have to go to the streets to demand for fair and free elections. This is the point at which freedom becomes a fight for human dignity.
As you consider what your freedom is, do not forget that the freedom of speech and assembly you enjoy did not come without a price. Today, you can take to the street to demonstrate your anger, but that was not always the case in your country. Be grateful that you can criticize the ruling class without necessarily ending up in jail. Freedom is never given to people on a silver platter. It has to be fought for.
On this World Freedom Day, remember that freedom is not absolute. Your rights are not supposed to infringe upon those of others. You have the right to demonstrate your anger against the government by protesting. However, you should not destroy other people’s property or loot in the process. The moment you use your freedom as an excuse to infringe on the rights of others, your freedom becomes slavery.
Do not fall into the temptation of using your freedom of expression to intimidate or harm others. Today, mainstream media and social media are used to unfairly target innocent people and to tarnish personalities. Press freedom should be used to bring out the good in society as well as to expose evil. However, when you infringe on private lives and write malicious and false stories about others because you don’t love them or you have been paid to assassinate their characters, you are not worthy of the freedom you enjoy.
Don’t forget too, that there are still millions of people that don’t enjoy the freedoms you do. Did you know that corruption, poverty, hunger and disease are forms of slavery? A child somewhere will not go to school because some politician or government official has embezzled funds meant to finance education. People will sleep on empty stomachs while others will die of preventable diseases. If you can support a cause that seeks to improve the lot of such people, you will have moral freedom – the satisfaction that you are helping another person to enjoy freedom.
Freedom is a concept that also applies to habits. Many of us are enslaved by alcoholism, drugs, cigarette smoking, pornography, binge eating and other negative habits. Unless you break away from these negative behaviors, you are not really free. In other words, freedom is not merely physical. If you are not in control of your faculties, you are a slave that needs to be freed as soon as possible. Freedom means you have the ability to choose how you will behave in any situation.
On this World Freedom Day, endeavour to become free of negative physical, emotional and psychological circumstances. Moreover, make sure you help others to become free from any form of enslavement. Remember, you cannot be truly free when those around you are slaves. Moreover, freedom comes with responsibility and unrestricted freedom can be slavery in itself.
Your Grace Guru