We live in a “do-as-thou-wilt” culture, where it is the norm to be anything other than the norm. Our generation values freedom, innovation, love, and did I mention freedom? The more restrictions anything has, the more unappealing and suffocating it is. Case in point, try telling me to be anywhere at a specific time and I want to slap you for limiting my daily schedule. We pride ourselves on being mavericks and renegades in a world that would endeavor to squash our youth under the yoke of tradition. Yet in my comparably short existence, I have found the weight of freedom sometimes renders me stationary in my pursuit of happiness. Here are some (hopefully) helpful insights that changed my perspective on what it means to be free, in the purest sense.
1. Tradition is not the enemy. An English author by the name of G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.” There lies deep within me, and I’m sure within you as well, some unruly bone which desires to utterly refute that statement. However when I pause and reflect on the value of such an idea, I’m convinced of its wisdom. Though I’m fairly young and have much more to explore and experience, I hope for the discernment to think before rashly tearing through a swamp with a sign that reads, “Keep out”. Perhaps the sign (or fence) is there not for arbitrary torture, but common knowledge. When everyone is hooking up left and right, and then asks, “Why can’t I ever find a decent guy?” Perhaps the answer is found in self-proclaimed freedom. We’re so quick to throw off well tested standards under the auspice of freedom that we end up slaves to our own pursuit, and not free at all. Remember some fences keep things (the guy at the bar) out, as well as keeping you in.
2. There is short term, and long term freedom. Michelangelo is once reported to have said, “The greatest danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark”, and one of my personal favorites by C.S. Lewis, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth thrown in, aim at Earth and you will get neither”. I’ve learned by trial and error (mostly error), that which had the initial allure of freedom ends up being a comfortable cage I willing locked myself in. If you constantly go out binge drinking in college, as fun as it may be, and you flunk out, then you forfeit what could have been an enthralling future. Maybe with that degree and a career in Economic Development you would have ended up in some obscure country making connections and impactful strides that would have left you doubly as satisfied. Sacrifice and Freedom are not in competition, they are two wheels on a bike that leads down the remotest of paths. We often blindly do what is great for short term fulfillment, at the detriment to our life-long goals and aspirations. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole earth, and yet forfeit his soul?” (Jesus Christ)
3. Break the wrong traditions. Have you ever wanted to mindlessly give to the construction of some religious institution? Yeah, me either. How about giving to the maintenance of St. Peter’s Basilica? Nope, no cigar. With all the hypocrisy that takes place when we give its tempting to give up giving all together. As much as I want to do that, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead of being mavericks, why not be wise mavericks? Let’s break the traditions that make no sense, like giving to something that will not matter a thousand years from now. People will matter, love will matter, our lives will matter. Yet all of those things are impossible to maintain without the wisdom of those who have gone before us. It would be hubris and folly to throw all tradition to the wind, simply for the sake of self indulgence and selfishness masquerading as liberation.
Sometimes, I am my own worst enemy. In my longing to be free from anyone else’s judgment, I often throw well-meaning (and loving) counsel in the trash. These thoughts have helped me understand how our generation, myself included, has not a high value on freedom but a low one. I have found that to be free doesn’t mean liberation from people and tradition, but rather the humility to give myself to the right people and traditions. When we look back at the pleas of those who have written to posterity, we can divine a definition of freedom that holds firm against the onslaught of our own winsome delusions. Regardless if we presume otherwise, we all end up giving ourselves to something or someone. With all this in mind I believe we can rightly judge whether our freedom is an upward climb, or a downward spiral.