Letters from Prison
Public Domain

Part 4: On Freedom

When I was at school, I felt content with life. When I started introspecting my personal relationships, I couldn’t understand how they could have been limiting (or liberating, for that matter). When I started getting paid for work, I thought, “this is it — I made it”.

In all those cases, I was expected to not complain, and I didn’t. It was over a longer period of time that I discovered how limited I was across all these areas without realising it.

This realisation holds a certain essence of freedom.

In another scenario, I return home from work and turn on the TV. There is a pizza ad that makes me realise I want to eat pizza. I order it and eat. Would I have eaten pizza if not for the ad?

There is a difference between eating pizza and not realising why and eating pizza while knowing it’s because of the ad. This difference is a difference in freedom.

Understanding the reason for something being the way it is matters in the context of freedom. A first step in becoming free is the realisation that one is constrained. As society members, we may be constrained by school, work, our relationships with friends and with family members. Once we realise what constrains us, we can act. If we never realise, we can never be free. We remain controlled by that which affects us without our understanding.

In the TV pizza example, there wasn’t someone explicitly aiming to make me eat pizza that day. Nobody was explicitly controlling my life other than me. However, assuming I ate the pizza because of the TV ad, I may no longer had explicit power over my dietary preferences. Since nobody else had that power either, as we claimed in the previous sentence, this means that that power was lost.

Here’s the harsh reality, though: even if we gave up that power and nobody picked it up, that power is still our responsibility. It’s harsh because such responsibility is overwhelming. Yet there isn’t anyone else to bear it. No supreme forces, no experts with profound knowledge, and no high-tech answers. It’s just us. If we don’t act, nobody will.

We are overwhelmed by loss and think we will never recover a sense of self and purpose, that we will never mend. But despite—and, really, because of—the struggles and the tragedies in our lives, each of us has the capacity to gain the perspective that transforms us from victim to thriver. We can choose to take responsibility for our hardships and our healing. We can choose to be free.

Edith Eger, The Choice: Embrace the Possible, 2017