Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This I Believe: To Be or Not To Be . . . Free!

I write this blog not to be about my day-to-day life and activities, as many blogs are, although some of the articles are about my activities and me. My real purpose for writing here is to express my thoughts, observations and philosophies on life and the meaning of it, as I perceive it and those of others' that seem similar. It's never been my intention to pontificate, though I know I have come across that way from time to time. I simply use this medium to put my thoughts on the table to allow you to consider them, adopt or adapt anything that may be useful and ponder the meaning, purpose and belief systems in your own life.

This is a continual growth process. As I look back at the early posts on this blog, I can see where I was often single or closed-minded, opinionated (my way is the right way) and, from time to time, arrogant. I am working at being less so and more open-minded. Now, to be sure, I have my personal belief system and I stand by it for MY life. But, I also accept that it may not work the same for your life. One of my beliefs, as I've stated many times, is that we are all born, for an instant in time, personally free. It's a natural thing. The next time we are again personally free is at the moment life ends. These are the two most important events in everyone's life. As my dear, late friend, Rosita Perez would say, "Being born, Big Stuff! Dying, Big Stuff! Everything between those two events, Small Stuff! So, don't sweat the small stuff."

From time to time I'm going to write intimately about some of my personal beliefs. I don't have any expectations that you will either agree or disagree with me. I put them on the table for your inspection. Sometimes you'll relate to them. Other times you'll feel very differently. That's okay because that's exactly what personal freedom is all about. If we don't have differences and we all think alike and agree on everything, there will be no progress or evolution. Heck! We would all still be running around naked or wearing fig leaves and searching for caves to live in without people thinking differently. There are still people in the U.S. who do not have cars or trucks and believe that the good old horse and wagon is the proper form of transportation. If it works for them, so be it.

I'm going to call this series of posts, "This I Believe . . ." Read them. Ponder them. Adopt, adapt or reject them. Nothing I write is meant to make you to take any action. I simply want to express my beliefs at the time I write the article based on my own personal life journey, experience, progress and evolution. If anything I write helps you solidify your own beliefs, whether similar to mine or diametrically opposed, then I'll feel fulfilled in my mission to leave this planet a little better than it was when I arrived.

To Be Or Not To Be

So, I begin with the "To be or not to be," question from Hamlet. You may remember the rest of the soliloquy, which is fine (or you can look it up), but I'm taking my departure from this point. My question is, "To be or not to be free?" I'm not going to go into a long explanation of the definition of "free." You either know what it means to be free or you don't, as it applies to your life in specific. Freedom comes in all kinds of sizes, shapes, colors and shades of gray.
So, here are my thoughts on being free. I live in what is termed a "free country" and a "free society" where I have been feeling less and less free over the past several decades. However, I feel there is a very real paradox at work here. Advances in technology have afforded us more and more personal freedom in so many ways since my youth in the late 40's, 50's and 60's. It's not necessary to list everything that has advanced or the causes of the changes, but here are just a few that I can honestly say have positively impacted my life and personal freedom.

*Electronic Media (radio, television, recordings, photography, cable and satellite delivery)
*Computers (they operate just about everything including our wrist watches)
*Telecommunications (telephones, fax machines, cellular phones)
*Digital Technology (now the basis for all of the above)
*Microwave Ovens
*Vehicular Travel (safer, better, faster, longer lasting, more reliable cars, trucks, trains & planes)
*Food Production
*Medicine (treatment, procedures and pharmaceuticals)
*Work (occupations, professions, industrial, office, etc.)

This is a short list. But, as with everything, there are pros and cons. While I have greatly benefited from so much of the continually advancing technology, I also believe some of it has hampered, hindered or even negatively impacted some of my personal freedom. This is the other side of the paradox. Not everything perceived by the inventor or creator of something is necessarily good in application. Life is not like the law of gravity. It is dynamic, not finite.

Freedom isn't something that can be specifically quantified. It is a complex concept that requires each individual to define what makes him or her believe they are free or not free. An extreme example of this would be military personal that are captured by the enemy and held as prisoners of war. During the Vietnam War many POW's were imprisoned in what has euphemistically called the "Hanoi Hilton." I personally know two men who spent seven years of their lives enjoying the "hospitality" and "luxury" afforded them by their North Vietnamese captors. I guarantee that their experiences during those seven years were the extreme opposite and many died in those POW prisons. What kept the survivors alive and able to get through another day was their belief that they were still free in their own minds. They didn't allow their captors to take that freedom.

I know another man who spent 12 years incarcerated in Folsom State Prison, a well-known, maximum-security facility in California. He was an educated man, a highly regarded professional and best selling author. However, he made a couple very major mistakes and bad choices that ended him up in that institution. In his case, though he was relegated to a tiny cell and surrounded mostly by hardened criminals who where there because of violent crimes against society, he kept his mind free. He wrote captions for cartoons that he mailed to a couple clients in exchange for small sums of money he used to buy food at the prison canteen, thus, avoiding the prison dining environment and cuisine as much as possible. While his physical freedom was taken away, just as it was with the POW's, he still found a way to feel free. He came out of prison to a world full of cell phones and smart phones, an Internet he'd had no experience with and a very different place than it was twelve years earlier.

Born Free

As I've noted numerous times, I grew up in a very different time and place. Most of us kids had moms at home and dads who worked. We could play on the streets without fear of being run over by massive traffic and speeding cars. We could ride our bikes to our friends in our own towns or adjoining towns without fear of being kidnapped, molested or preyed upon. The police, while stern, were our friends. We didn't wear helmets and all kinds of protective pads when we rode our bikes and few of us got hurt. We could go into stores by ourselves. I can remember walking three blocks to the barbershop by myself when I was seven and eight years old.

Now, this was in a large city (the 11th largest city in New Jersey) only 12 miles from Manhattan. Of course there were still dangers. Yes, there were kidnappings. Cars hit kids. There were murders, beatings, rapes, bank robberies and such (after all, I did live in the Tony Soprano's territory). But, I honestly never felt in danger, threatened, in fear for my life or safety. I guess I can say, for a kid, I felt FREE. And, I've never allowed that feeling of personal freedom to leave my mind and heart. However, that's not the world I live in anymore. As you know, if you've been reading the blog for a while, I just came back from spending a couple weeks in my hometown and the surrounding area, my old "stomping grounds." While much of the place looks the same on the surface and I didn't feel particularly unsafe or threatened, I can honestly say, I didn't feel the freedom I left there with 46 years ago. I was free in my mind, but I saw a place where I felt constrained, restricted, limited and insecure. That feeling was compounded when I visited my old high school (the new high school when I graduated as the first class from the, then, new, groundbreaking facility, now 50 years old) and found the place locked down like a fortress, or even a prison. Students and faculty/staff have to use ID encrypted security badges to enter the premises. There's no freedom there anymore.

Yes, I know it's a "Brave New World" full of terrorists, others with mental health issues or deficiencies and just plain corrupt, greedy and evil people. But, they've always been in the world. Heck! We were prepared as elementary school kids to be turned into "crispy critters" as the result of a Russian atomic bomb attack. There were spies and other evildoers. The Communists were going to overrun us and take over and we'd all be shipped to gulags. But, as a society, we've allowed the folks with mental issues, who really need to be cared for since they aren't able to properly care for themselves, to roam freely and some even do dastardly things including rapes, mass murders and terrorize entire towns and cities. We've basically lost (or didn't win) every war we've been involved in since World War II (including Iraq and Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism) because we don't play to win and probably shouldn't have allowed whatever got us into the war to happen in the first place. The result is that we not only haven't "saved the world," we've relinquished more and more of our personal freedom and privacy to "supposedly" feel secure.

Not To Be Free

So, not to beat a dead horse, this isn't the United States of America I grew up in. This isn't the same "Land of the Free" I saluted the flag and pledged allegiance to. Heck, some schools are attempting to eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance because they don't have time or it might "offend" some immigrants from a foreign land. The Freedom of Speech right no longer exists because we can't say a prayer in public (isn't a prayer speech), it might offend others. We have to use politically correct language because if you don't you may offend someone or a group of people and worse, yet, it will be construed as racist and hate speak. Of course, it's okay to use the "s" word, the "f-bomb" and any other colorful combinations of words I would have had my mouth washed out with soap if I used them as a kid. It's now common accepted language of not only men, but, women, teenagers and children in public, in restaurants, in movie theaters, on TV (cable/satellite - though they only use innuendos on broadcast TV that fewer and fewer people watch off the air). It's okay for high-ranking government officials to use plain language to mislead, lie or make official comments in public when they don't know what they're talking about. The issues are legion and have cost us so much freedom. Oh yeah, it's never "our fault." It's always someone else's fault whether it's a domestic or international issue. 

The point is that this is not my kind of freedom. Believe me, looking back through history, both at our country's and world history; I realize that what I described as freedom during my youth was a limited perspective. Total freedom would, unfortunately, be a world of anarchy as described in the most negative of definitions. Of course, anarchy is not necessarily what the vast majority of people have come to understand it to be. Personal freedom must be something each individual has to define for him or herself. There is no one size fits all. In large urban and suburban regions (51% of the world population and 79% of the U.S. population live in these areas) there is a requirement for a lot more authority, laws, rules, ordinances, etc. This is because of all the individual definitions of personal freedom. So, in order to maintain law and order and alleviate as much disorder, discord and intolerance, those who choose to live in these urban/suburban areas agree to relinquish, in my opinion, significant amounts of personal freedom. I often shake my head in wonderment when I hear of some of the things people are restricted from doing on their own property or in their own condo or apartment.

The thing that bothers me is that the federal government  mandates so many of these laws for the urban/suburban dwellers. But, because they are federal laws they apply to those who choose to live in rural, low population density regions as well. This deprives and hinders people from living free on their own land as they choose. Of course there is much to debate about this, however, it's become an impossible situation to resolve, especially in the United States because there are so many thousands of laws. It's seldom that any of them ever get repealed or that any of them are written to apply to specific regions, groups or situations - urban as opposed to rural.

To Be Free

Here it is. I choose to grab and hold onto as much personal freedom as I can. In today's world that's still not very much. But, I'm willing to give up having shopping centers every block or two, thousands of restaurants offering hundreds of cuisines, a plethora of box stores and clothing stores offering every conceivable style of clothes, designer labels and the latest electronic gadgets, etc. known to the human race. I'm not only ready, I'm doing it because that's what is necessary for me to hold onto whatever personal freedom I can have. I didn't like someone running my life in the military, which is why I turned down two good opportunities to stay in the Air Force. I don't like someone telling me where I'm going to work what I'm going to do and how much I'm going to be paid, which is why I chose an entrepreneurial career path. I don't like anyone telling me what I can or can't do with my own personal property. I I did my best to play by those rules as long as I could and finally decided it was time to be true to myself.

I have absolutely no problem with anyone who chooses to live by more restrictive laws, rules, ordinances, etc. If this is how anyone chooses to define freedom, I cannot dispute the choice. That certainly is his or her freedom of choice and not my place to pass judgment. It doesn't change my relationship with them. It doesn't cause me to think any more or any less of them. To think or feel otherwise would be hypocritical. I am free to make my choices and everyone else is free to make theirs. We still have that freedom, so far. But, in my personal opinion and expressing (whatever is left of) my right to freedom of speech, I will consider my lifestyle "to be free" and the lifestyle of those who choose to live by an unknowable number of laws, rules, ordinances, restrictions and limitations, "to not be free" or, at least, less free by my personal definition. 

This I believe.     


Richard Rosen said...

I like how you expressed the purpose of your blog: “If anything I write helps you solidify your own beliefs….”

Your blog Ed has a community of readers that share the value of “living free.” The purpose of community, whether it be religious, political, social, etc., is for likeminded people to learn from and uplift one another.

The fact of your increasing readership (community) from throughout the world testifies to the value your thoughts bring.

Keep up the good work.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Thanks Richard,

I appreciate your feedback. As you well know, this is a growth process as is all of our life experiences. I'm able to see my own growth through my own writing. And I see similar growth through those whose blogs I follow.

As a side note, if all goes according to plan for my first 2014 Road Trek - I'll be in your neck of the woods some time in January and February. I hope to get a chance to see all y'all when I'm there. And, of course I extend my best wishes for the Christmas holiday and a happy, healthy and abundant 2014.