Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Difference Between Freedom and Everything

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Today, I was asked by someone, “do you know what the one thing is, you’ve been wanting for the past 15 or so years?”

My immediate response, “freedom.”

Their immediate response, “everything”.

And I realized two things at once there.

First of all, whatever it is I wanted, what I wanted more than anything was the “freedom to pursue whatever I wanted”. (Also a parenting epiphany, but that needs reflection later).

Second of all, the sarcasm with which the “everything” was said to me is so typical of patriarchal society… like wanting everything is not OK.

When what I’m trying to say is… give me freedom to pursue whatever I want, and you won’t really care if I want one thing or everything, because it won’t be dependent on any one other person.

I’m not naive. I know that technically freedom is almost always contingent upon other people and their own rights and duties.

But I suddenly do see something here – I see what Amartya Sen was on about and what many in the West are on about when (personal) freedom becomes an obsession within a collective/community.

I am also seeing why my culture struggles with it because individual wants (maybe especially of women and more particularly of moms) are not prioritized ahead of some collective goals (this is not always a bad thing, because we should not be selfish) and other individual goals (i.e. sacrificing self for our children – which again is not a bad thing per se, but each of us needs to have the freedom to choose which sacrifices and not have them dictated by another person or worse, by society and its norms).

Oh wow. This was a breath of fresh air for me. And now to stop and think about how I can deal with this as a parent. Firstly, how have I been stifling my child’s freedom? Secondly, how can I model a responsible way to reclaim her freedom as a female in this society, while remaining empathetic to others and sensitive to their needs…. but maintaining freedom of when to prioritize what…. and knowing the soft and hard boundaries of things. Perhaps I need to communicate where things are negotiable, when they aren’t, and why. So we can focus our energies on negotiating particular things and not others, if we’re consistently going to end up in the same place (like going to school!! See recent post on mornings on school days!)

These are much harder questions than I thought.

2 Comments

  1. Freedom has always been the number one thing for me. Not that I don’t agree that i have responsibilities to society, but rather, as you say, to choose which sacrifices and not have them dictated by another person.

    I don’t see this as a cultural thing in itself. Yes, I’m in the west, but there is still a lot of pressure to conform. Pushing back against that pressure is hard because people don’t recognize it exists – they will deny there’s pressure to conform, while at the same time demanding that you agree with them.

    • I hear you on that, but it’s really on a whole other level here, where asking for freedom is not, like, a central thing (not that no one has freedom, they do to a great extent, but it’s not a right that’s explicitly valued as one everyone should have). I mean, liberty is one of the key things in the French revolution. Americans have that whole freedom of speech thing. We don’t really have that in the explicit culture, let alone the politics.
      One can easily interpret the Quran in ways that encourage or mandate personal freedom, but interpretations of holy texts are fluid and anyone can interpret anything, really… practice is what matters.

      But now I realize that’s what you’re saying. That despite discourses of freedom, in practice it’s not that easy. So, I hear you. I would maybe just say, even the discourses on valuing freedom as a human right here are not there.

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