What does it mean to be free? Such a well-debated question in the social sciences have resulted in very little success. Freedom, being mostly subjective of nature, is conceptually broad and includes all facets of humanity; the minds, our hearts, bodies, and the environment. What one person may see as a restriction others will feel indifferent to. Someone, as an example, may see one dollar as being restrictive, and another may see that same dollar as their key to freedom. Mr Black may see loud laughing as an expression of freedom while Ms White may label it as immature and restrictive to, for example, a successful career or social adaptation. Lastly a good, yet humbling example of personal freedom is seeing the world from a body-abled person in relation to someone with disabilities. We cannot exclusively say that each individual is freer than the other, as freedom is not a state of observation, but a state of being, thinking and feeling. In its literal form a person in a wheelchair may not be able to run, and in such sense, the person is contextually restricted but has little to do with the concept of being free.
And that's the point of the army soldier in the photo above. It represents a belief and message that we tell ourselves that we aren't free, that we somehow gave that away or that events in our lives stole that freedom from us. Victor Emil Frankl, Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor talks about having meaning as being one of the greatest drivers of feeling free, along with the ability to choose. In his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he explains how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it. Relating Frankl's story to the photo we can thus say that the steel bars represent the concentration camp, the panoramic scene being outside of it and the army soldier the belief and message we tell ourselves that we are either free or not.
Learning to understand this trinity of viewpoints (panoramics, steel bars and army soldiers) gives us choice in establishing our relationship with freedom. We all have a collection of panoramic ideals and in contrast, the steel bars that form our realities. Although some of these realities are real blockers, it’s the army soldier that represents how we manage these beliefs and messages. The army soldier is where our ability to choose lies, and while it's a soldier with a gun presenting real blockage and struggle, some irony applies in that it being only a small plastic toy, illustrating that something seemingly big could be purely subjective.
I've listed two examples below that illustrates this trinity with an invitation of some alternative ways of thinking. I've also included a shadow question for further elaboration. Note that there could be many alternatives, and that the ones below are purely case in point.
Example 1: Fitness for parents
Panoramic: Being able to gym, do fitness training and feel healthy.
Steel bars: Children at home that needs my attention.
Soldier: I cannot train because of my kids.
Alternative: There is no such thing as "no time", only "priority". I either choose to give exclusive priority to kids (and bare the price) or decide to find a way to involve them in my fitness or shuffle my schedule as such to allow 30 minutes of occasional training.
Shadow question: Are the children potentially a "good blame" to avoid my own lack of commitment to fitness?
Example 2: Work-life balance
Panoramic: Being able to manage my work as such that I have more free time for what is truly important to me.
Steel bars: 8-5 Job that I've pushed to 7-6+ because of workload.
Soldier: To be successful and get it done I need to work extra hours.
Alternative: The endless additional hours are entirely voluntary, and I choose hours spent at work as better than hours spent elsewhere. Maybe working longer is me being free, relative to what else I will have to deal with?
Shadow question: Since these hours are a choice, what would I usually do with that free time and why has that not taken priority?
As with many of my articles, I intend to disrupt comfortable thinking gently, and once again the invitation is to go head on with the desire to feel free, whatever that may mean. As Victor Frankl, with great adversary found meaning, I challenge readers to hunt meaning to its greatest extent. To action this would involve identifying the trinities that we've adopted over time. How does being free look like? Where is the freedom (panoramic) that we desire? What are the realities (steel bars) that makes being free so hard, and what are the messages (soldiers) we tell ourselves that prevents us feeling free? Starting with just one would be a good step forward.
As we grow in awareness of our trinities we come face-to-face with choice, risk, and courage. Often the reasons we subliminally choose to stay behind bars is because of our fears of the unknown. Behind bars are safe, and that, irrelevant of its apparent toxicity, is what we fundamentally come to terms with. So to leave the bars and see the soldier as a small plastic toy would require strong elements of risk and courage. It may not be easy, if it was we'd all be doing it. Sometimes it may even require closing our eyes and jump. As we struggle to find courage, we revert to calculations and lists of pro's and con's, but since the soldier is beyond fact and all about internal scripts and feeling, no data could substantiate or give us sufficient confidence that moving beyond bars would be free of risk.
Lastly, I compassionately support the reality that people are often forced in worlds where feeling free is hard and almost impossible to fathom standing as an outsider. The risk, though, exists that we may conveniently label ourselves as one of these rarities in an attempt to disclaim accountability. If the impossible is wholly true indeed, I will concur, but my encouragement is that despite the world feeling like it's jargoned with army soldiers and steel bars, there always be some opportunity for choice, even if it means moving the eyes closer to stare through the steel bars at a beautiful sunset with gratitude.