Freedom From Consequences

People yearn for freedom and talk about it a great deal at the moment. However, much of that discussion confuses what freedom means. Freedom means the ability to choose, not the freedom from consequences.

Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose

Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee

In the sophisticated philosophy of Kris Kristofferson’s country music song, for those with nothing left consequences are irrelevant. Choices are unconstrained. As the song goes, ‘Nothin’ ain’t worth nothing, but it’s free’

A tree falls. Photo by Pixabay on

However, most of us have something to lose. Our position isn’t that precarious. In that difference falls the obligation to look to the consequences and to look out for those who can’t make choices or can’t deal with consequences.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Freedom is the ability to make choices and wear the consequences. Consequences are how we grow. Despite the many contrary views with respect to politics, speech or actions, this much vaunted ideal is not an absence of consequences. If you aren’t prepared to wear the consequences of your choices, then you aren’t exercising freedom. Freedom is not a luxury. It is a burden you work to sustain and that improves you in the process.

Consequences Fall

Freedom is not a reward or a decoration that you toast in champagne. On the contrary, it’s hard graft and a long-distance run, all alone, very exhausting. Alone in a dreary room, alone in the dock before the judges, and alone to make up your mind, before yourself and before the judgement of others. At the end of every freedom there is a sentence, which is why freedom is too heavy to bear.

Albert Camus, The Fall

As Camus highlights, choices have consequences. Words have consequences. Actions have consequences. Your choices will be judged. Someone bears the burden. Where that burden falls will depend on your community and your position in it.

Freedom is what you do with what is done to you

Jean-Paul Sartre

If you can’t see or don’t feel those consequences, you should ask yourself a hard question about what that means. Are you externalising the consequences of your action on others? Is your fame, prestige or privilege protecting you and exposing others whose position is more precarious or who have fewer choices? Or is it that you are in an authoritarian or paternalistic environment, and your freedom means someone else is calling the shots as to where the burdens fall? Because freedom from consequences may well be no freedom at all.

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

Thomas Paine

The modern freedoms we debate are relatively recent concepts in human affairs. They are hard won and sustained by the efforts of many across societies developed to support them. We are free because of our community, not in spite of it.

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