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The meaning of freedom

By Spiros Tzelepis

"The one who thinks freely, thinks well"

-Rigas Velestinlis (Feraios)*

Freedom is a concept for which many people have fought and millions have been sacrificed since the beginning of human history. I have many times wondered about what we mean when we say that someone is free.

We usually accept that one is free when he/she has the right of self-determination, but is this enough? Am I free at school? Do people have freedom in their work? I do not think so, because if someone tries to act opposite to the rules his/her environment poses, automatically this person understands that in this case freedom means acting according to certain rules -which in fact are predetermined by others and we can't be sure that they are actually correct, since they are man-made and people make mistakes. We are free to the extent we are not opposed to the set of rules which determine our role and behaviour in the society we live. Others determine if and how free we can be, so we are not absolutely free as it is said.

Nevertheless, an important point to be stressed is that restrictions in the society are good because people cannot coexist without rules which will determine everyone's behaviour. However, these rules are good only when they are for everyone's benefit and the people are not confined and oppressed by them.

Surely we cannot give an absolute definition to freedom. We are free, but we have to undergo thousands of restrictions; others may be slaves but they may have a free spirit so they are free in their slavery in some way.

Furthermore, even in the democratic societies where people are said to be free and are protected by laws, I doubt if all of them enjoy the same "amount" of freedom. Do the poor enjoy the same freedom as the rich when they have to be dependent in order to cover their immediate needs? On the contrary, do the rich have freedom when they live with the fear of losing their possessions or with the anxiety to be richer and richer? Additionally are all people free when they are "slaves" to the needs they do not really have and waste their life pursuing more and more? Are the uneducated or illiterate people free when the number of choices they can make is very limited? Are people who are afraid to take responsibility free, when they decide not according to their will, but according to other people's proposals?

None of the categories mentioned above are free and this means that freedom has many faces and that political freedom we usually have in mind when we use the word is only one aspect of it. We may be politically free but, psychologically, we can be slaves or the opposite.

I really believe that what is important if we want to lead a free life is to be free in our spirit so that none of the restrictions we have to undergo in life will be able to make us feel dependent and whenever we can and there is a need for it, we should fight for freedom, political or any other kind of it we lack.

These are some verses by a Greek poet:

"The ones who feel the heavy hand of fear
deserve the yoke of slavery;
freedom needs virtue and boldness"

-Adreas Kalvos.**

Photo: S.Tzelepis

*Rigas Velestinlis was the main representative of the Greek Enlightenment Movement.

**Adreas Kalvos was a Greek poet who lived in the 19th century.

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