Freedom Is Not About Speaking up but Choosing When to Be Silent
Freedom is not a status but a mindset
“In my country, we go to prison first and then become President.” — Nelson Mandela
Imagine that you’ve just been set free after 27 years in prison. The crowds gather around you to listen to your first words in decades. Your only crime was to oppose a white-minority regime. Those who imprisoned you, are right at your side too. What would you say?
“I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy, and freedom for all.” — a 71-year-old Nelson Mandela said.
Devoid of self-pity, he addressed the same people who had jailed him and who had brutalized fellow blacks to preach “true reconciliation.” Mandela always felt free, even if his body was kept behind bars for almost three decades.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: “He came out a far greater person than the man who went in.”
Most of us would have felt rage. We’d probably cursed our captors and wished to take revenge. But Mandela did not. He learned that “courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Paraphrasing his words, a free man is he who conquers fear.
Why We Got It Backward
“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” — Søren Kierkegaard
Our society defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” That’s the biggest paradox of freedom: if nothing restraints how each person behaves, it will be absolute chaos. The bully would be free to enslave the meek. It will eventually mean that only those at the top are free, and those at the bottom — the weak — are not
Your freedom ends where someone else’s starts.
In America many people think that freedom equals to doing whatever they want — freedom is a belief above any moral law. Some folks actually believe it’s okay to attack others in the name of liberty. They turn freedom into an excuse. However, imposing one’s beliefs is ideological slavery.
Nelson Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
You are free to think whatever you want. But in-your-face attitudes, just to win a discussion, will make you a hostage of others’ approval. Whatever you believe imprisons you, as I wrote here.
Freedom is more than the right to speak up — knowing when to stay silent sets you free.
Are We Free to Be Free?
“The ego-shell in which we live is the hardest thing to outgrow.” — D.T. Suzuki
Do you control your behaviors?
The impulse to take the most basic actions originate in the brain at least a full second before we consciously are aware. Daniel Kahneman describes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow the unconscious mind may control far more of our conscious decision making than we ever imagined.
‘Determination’ versus ‘free will’ is one of the most significant debates around the notion of freedom.
According to free will, a person is responsible for her/ his own actions.
The determinist approach suggests that all behavior is caused by preceding factors — thus, predictable.
For American Psychologist William James, the ultimate freedom tied to spirituality — is knowing God and selflessly following its will. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, believed that free will is an illusion — our unconscious mind is in charge, not us. His disciple, Carl Jung, had a different perspective: self-awareness and self-knowledge equal freedom.
It’s hard to achieve freedom when you don’t know what it really means.
Viktor Frankl, like Mandela, was also a victim of oppressors — he spent many years in Nazi concentrations camps. His personal experience was the basis of his idea that freedom is internal — an attitude. Frankl learned to transcend the misery. Thus he felt free in spite of being captive.
Freedom is not living on autopilot.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy(CBT) promotes taking ownership and accepting our role in ‘creating’ our own suffering. Albert Ellis says: “People don’t just get upset. They contribute to their upsetness.” You free yourself when you let go of thoughts and distressful emotions.
There’s a nice combination of both determination and free will behind how we act. Non-attachment — living more fully and being authentic — is a state of freedom. To set yourself free you have to give up the masks you wear.
Freedom Is a Mindset, Not a Status
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” — Viktor Frankl
Our collective imagery of freedom is full of balloons, people walking barefooted, and open arms enjoying the moment. We depict freedom as something ethereal and effortless. But it’s anything like that. It takes courage and effort to set yourself free.
Freedom is not something you inherit, but a state of mind that needs to be cultivated. Freedom is not a gift for being alive; it’s a reward for living with courage.
The likes of Gandhi, Mandela or Frankl didn’t allow a cell to imprison their spirits — their minds stayed free.
You cannot control everything in life, but not one manages your attitude but you. Learn to self-regulate your freedom — embrace a ‘Mandela’ state of mind
- Accept reality: Don’t fight what you cannot control. Mandela didn’t blame his captors or asked himself: “Why me?” He silenced the voice of self-pity and choose courage instead. He took what life threw at him and turned it into a lesson.
- Respect everyone: Your freedom is not more valuable than other people’s. The belief that liberty is a status, we create hierarchies and divisions. You have rights, like everyone else. Freedom cannot be used as an excuse to bully the weak.
- Have tolerance: Your beliefs can easily blind you. Remember, you define your boundaries — your freedom ends where your neighbor’s start. Be patient and tolerant of those who think differently. Too many people turn freedom into an excuse for domination.
- Choose silence: In-your-face beliefs are an attack on others, not freedom. You have the right to think what you want and speak up your mind when necessary. But you have to respect people with different perspectives too — the world would be boring if we all think the same. Free will is not about doing what you can, but to choose what you actually do. Sometimes we must speak up, others silence is a better way to neutralize attacks.
Playing the amendment card is an act of cowardice. It’s using freedom as an excuse to do whatever we want. Because no one would attack the notion of freedom, we turned it into a shield to hide from any open discussion. However, living in a free society has a price: other opinions matter too.
Freedom is a state of mind, not a status to brag about.
Set Yourself Free
“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery
We think that freedom merely means being free of any outside control. We believe that we have the right to do whatever we want, whenever we want.
We live in a time of fear.
We’ve turned freedom into a precious asset — we have become its prisoners. Some people turn their ideals into hate. They wave a flag to silence those who think differently; they’ve turned their colors into anything but freedom.
Fear itself is not necessarily a bad thing; it can serve as an alarm, a call to action. We are afraid of what we don’t know or understand. We are scared of what’s out of our control. That’s because we have a hard time letting go.
We fear what we desire the most. When you are obsessed with being successful, the fear of failure paralyzes you. You then become afraid of becoming successful too. The same happens with freedom.
When you are not afraid of who you are, then you are free from being accepted, you are free from appreciation, from speculation, from
David Foster Wallace said: “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”
Stop using freedom as an excuse. Don’t use your rights as an excuse to do what you want in the name of freedom. Attacking those who think differently, in the name of freedom, is slavery.
Be gentle and kind to yourself. The moment you liberate yourself from your own attacks, you won’t need to fight other people. It’s not easy. But it’s the path to liberation.
Embrace freedom as a mindset. It’s not just a right, but something you build and nurture in spite of adversity.
Silence can set you free. With great freedom comes great responsibility. Sometimes we must speak up; sometimes it’s better to stay silent — especially with those who are looking for a fight.
Nelson Mandela said: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
Talk to yourself in the language of compassion and tolerance. That will set you free. Not a flag or a slogan.
Upgrade Your Mindset
Receive my weekly “Insights for Changemakers”: Sign Up Now
Download my free ebook: Stretch Your Mind (a compilation of exercises to help you experiment).