Ruminations on Freedom

Freedom is a funny thing. Celebrated far and wide as an ideal. Yet when you have it, you don’t always feel it, because freedom does come with a certain weight of responsibility. Some choose to ignore that. More and more these days, it seems. But that’s still true. After all, unrestrained, unabashed freedom can lead to chaos and conflict. Unless you live alone on an island with a volleyball, like Tom Hanks, perhaps.

Certainly I’ve always valued and appreciated freedom, most particularly freedom of speech, without which I couldn’t practice my trade as a writer and musician. And I’ve traveled enough to have some appreciation, though limited, of how fortune we are in the U.S. to have the freedoms we have. I used to take it far more for granted than I do today. But all things considered, we really do have it better than many, even most.

We haven’t always exercised our freedom wisely, for sure. The longstanding tradition of hailing ourselves as “the greatest country in the world” strikes me as arrogant these days. After all, others are proud of their countries, too. Do we deserve to consider ourselves better than everyone else? I certainly feel like the country has gone some negative directions of late. And history reveals many missteps as well, from those in times of war, to those in economic, political and civic matters and more. No doubt we are fortunate to be where we are. But we can do better, and we should do better. And one day, I hope we do again.

No, this is not one of those down on America posts. But given that patriotism tends to flare during July 4th, and it’s reflections of that Independence Day celebration which have led to this post, I wanted to admit, this is not one of those raging patriotic posts either.

For me, life is much too complicated.

Nations are only capable of being the best they can be on the heads of the people themselves, and given that people are flawed, with good and bad parts all, nations also struggle to rise to the top from time to time and even more to stay there. Doesn’t mean our nation isn’t wonderful. Doesn’t mean we aren’t fortune. But it does remind me that we mustn’t become to complacent or comfortable. There’s ongoing work to be done.

One of the things I appreciate about freedom is the ability to listen to and compare opinions with people from a variety of places, backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. Compromise, after all, has always been vital to successful democracy, and from the very start it’s played a huge role in the successes of this country. And one cannot compromise, if one does not understand everyone’s wants, needs, etc. Understanding them doesn’t mean you agree with them or even like them, but that you acknowledge they exist.

And, to me, compromise is what’s missing all too often from our society these days. Everyone is so polarized, something the media and pundits love to exacerbate. Tempers flare and people rage at the slightest provocation, it seems. And people are quick to assume and impugn motives, too, seemingly always reading everything in the worst light, rather than the best, which just feeds their tempers.

For me, part of maturity has been learning to think calmly whenever emotions come into play. After all, while emotions are free, we all have them all the time, they should not just be given free reign. Emotions are fickle and irrational, the antithesis of common sense, the enemy of compromise. And especially in days of the world wide web, it’s hard to really know what someone means or intends without deeper conversations, unless you know someone well and have had interpersonal contact.

And sadly freedom these days also allows people to have ignorant opinions in an ongoing way. After all, to be informed or not informed, to be educated or not educated, are choices people make.  Intellectual capacity is not, however. And some of both come into play.

But I think racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry, while I wish they’d gone away, will always exist as long as humans exist, because we humans love to categorize everything from other people to beliefs, systems, things, etc. Inevitably such categorizations lead to comparisons, and feed the desire to distinguish one’s self from the pack in various ways. And that leads many, out of arrogance, insecurity or both, to find ways to  belittle others in order to elevate themselves. The fact that such is occurring using false criteria goes ignored. And that’s unfortunate.

As I said, there’s much work to be done. I’m of the belief that with freedom comes responsibility. And the greater the freedom, the greater the responsibility. Exercising freedom with responsibility means taking time to not assume and impugn but to question and dialogue and try and understand. You don’t have to agree, but chances are you’ll discover more common ground once you take that time and that will give you a foundation for deeper discussion. T0 me, such discussions have always proven worthwhile. The chance to look at the world through the eyes of Africans, Brazilians, poor, rich, and in between has made me a better person and broadened my worldview and perspective in every way. It hasn’t always changed my opinions. Often it’s affirmed them. But it has given me an ability to respect and value the diversity of our world.

For me, that’s one of the best parts of freedom–the ability to go and experience the world in broad and diverse ways through people, places, and things. It’s certainly been one of the freedoms I’ve most exercised, having traveled to Africa, Europe, South America and Central America numerous times over the past twenty years. And it’s one I hope to go on valuing, along with the freedom to take what I learn, process it, and let it inform how I live, what I do, what I say, what I write and more.

Freedom is a wonderful thing, indeed. I’m glad I have it. I hope others gain more daily. But I also hope they learn to use it responsibly. If everyone did, I have no doubt we c0uld create a better world. And that’s a goal I consider always worthy of hoping for.

For what it’s worth…

BTS author photo 2Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction including the novels The Worker Prince and The Returning, and the children’s books 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (Flying Pen Press, 2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun (Fairwood, July 2013), Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age  (Every Day Publishing, November 2013) and Shattered Shields with co-editor Jennifer Brozek (Baen, 2014). He also edits Blue Shift Magazine and hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and can be found via Twitter as @BryanThomasS, on his website or Facebook.

Ruminations on Freedom

I’ve always been a big believer in freedom. As a creative person, since I was very young, freedom was very important to me. The right to express myself. The right to make choices. The right to be in control. The right to have a say. The right to be heard.

I believe 100% in freedom of speech as a core value of our country. The idiots of the KKK and other groups I find abhorrent have a right to it just as much as I do. I don’t like what they have to say, no, but I have a right to condemn them for it in my own contrary opinions stated as freely as they state theirs. I believe in freedom from censorship. It’s important in free society that free exchange of ideas can happen. Without free exchange of ideas, many things which have changed our society and world for the better would have never come to be.

But our societal sense of freedom seems to have evolved for the worst over the years. Because freedom comes with responsibility, and I see more and more irresponsibility.  I think it’s fine to want freedom of expression but you have to be willing to respect the fact others may not want to hear it and may even take offense. It’s not a right to force yourself on others. And it is unfortunate that is how things get interpreted. Additionally, people often try and repress or discriminate against those they disagree with while demanding freedom for themselves. If you want it, you have to be willing to defend it for everyone. True freedom is not a selfish thing.

But I also am careful to choose my words. I think freely speaking and wanting to be heard comes with respecting the audience. People think using abusive, inflammatory, foul words is cool,  but I disagree. I think it often shows lack of maturity, respect, restraint and taste more than anything. It detracts from people listening your opinion. It detracts from being taken seriously. Those kinds of statements have their place but must be used with wisdom, not just bandied about as a mass rebellion against societal or religious mores to which you object. For one thing, it’s forcing your values on others. When you curse in front of other’s children or other people, you are saying “I think this is okay for you to hear” without regard for what they think. And people feel like their own freedom to live without that is being encroached upon. The fact it doesn’t bother you doesn’t make it less respectful.

So it’s interesting to me in the present climate to see people claiming great love of freedoms they abuse.  I think it’s a sad decline of overall honor and class, personally. It’s hard to feel good sometimes living in a country where your senses are assaulted by things you find offensive because your neighbor doesn’t share your values or respect your right to have different values, isn’t it? In a way, to me, it seems almost uncivilized behavior. And I think it creates a divisiveness which can be very painful. The sense of unity we once shared as Americans is in jeopardy. And I think that’s very sad.

But today is a day to celebrate independence bought at hard price. An independence which came from people speaking out about values and demanding them for themselves. I think at the time, it was seen as a show of unity, despite differences. I think it created a bond of varied people coming together, and I hope that as we reflect on freedom today and continue to value and celebrate it, we can learn to respect it and not abuse it. Freedom should be a gift, not a weapon as often as possible. There are times where it must be used as a weapon, but not every time.

The truth is we need each other. As a newly divorced man, I realize that more than ever. I’m lonely on a level I couldn’t have imagined 7 years ago when I was still single. I realize how much the little poorly chosen words sometimes lead others to conclusions we never intended–the harm they can do. And how important it is to be wise in your self-expression when around others who matter to you and even sometimes those who don’t. I’d like to be more surrounded by friends right now. I’d like to feel more connected. The present isolation gives me a feeling of freedom which is not pleasing. My marriage ended over more than words, but looking back it’s often the little moments/words I most wish I could take back. She may have left me anyway because of other factors, but she wouldn’t have done so with the impressions caused by those words.

Isolation is inevitable if our freedom of speech is practiced with total disregard for others. And so as I celebrate and think about freedom today, I think all the more how awesome a responsibility freedom is. And how awesomely important it is to exercise it responsibly, with wisdom and care.

You may not agree, but those are thoughts on my mind this July 4th about freedom. I think it’s very important to think about.

For what it’s worth…