What is “Freedom” Really?

mericaRecently we celebrated the anniversary of our nation’s freedom. On July 4th, 1776, our nation was established with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which began with the following words that still sound awesome more than 200 years later:

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

The essence of the American ideal of freedom is in those words, and that’s why it baffles me to see the attitude of many people today who call themselves “free Americans” and shoot off fireworks to celebrate their “freedom”. We live in a place that was built on the notion that you have the ability to stand up for yourself, say “I am independent and I can make it on my own”, and then go do that. Be an entrepreneur. Invent something cool that people need. DO something with your life that YOU want to do.

But just look around and you will see countless people who are stuck in day to day tasks that they are miserable but comfortable in. It’s like a baby with a poopy diaper. Sure, it stinks… but it’s warm and it’s MINE.

When I read the Declaration of Independence, I hear a bunch of very educated guys trying to convey something really profound but really simple: “We are not idiots, and we are not doormats. We are pissed off autonomous adults, and we are sick of you taking advantage of us. So here’s the deal: We are going to govern ourselves now, without your help or your permission. If you have a problem with that, come on over with your guns and flashy red coats. But we aren’t slaves, and we aren’t cowards. We will fight you.”

Apply that mindset to today’s day to day grind, and there’s a few jarring little insights for us all.

Here’s one insight that seems to surprise a lot of people, and that I learned from an old Sunday School teacher: You don’t have a “job”. In fact, a “job” does not exist at all. You cannot own one. There is no such thing as “my job” or “your job”. The only value any of us have to the marketplace is intrinsic. We build value and skills in ourselves, and then sell those skills if we choose to someone who needs them and willing to exchange their money for our time and effort. The truth is that with enough effort invested in yourself, even if no one ever hires you again, you will still find a way to make money and be happy because you are smart and hard working and FREE. That freedom gives you the right to pursue your own happiness.

Another insight: Company owners do not “create jobs”. They are just guys or girls who are pursuing their own dream of happiness and need help building it. They happen to have money you want. You happen to have services or skills they want. You, as two consenting adults, exchange one for the other. This does not mean they own you or your life. This does not mean they can tell you what to do without your permission. You are two independent people who are bartering for what the other needs. If you are at a “job” where you have to ask someone else’s permission to use the bathroom, I have one question: Why?

How many people do you see every day get comfortable and relaxed in “their job”? So much so that it becomes mindless routine? They spend the money they are given in exchange for their services on nice restaurants and cars, get into debt, and now are living a lifestyle that relies on the income from “their job”.

If “their job” is taken away, now they are in trouble, because they have debts, and their creditors can take away their stuff if they don’t have money. Then they realize that their boss can take away their money if they don’t perform. The motivation for success is no longer intrinsic. So they live in constant fear. They are no longer free. They cannot quit, they need the money. They cannot tell their boss “You don’t own me”, because now he does. They have clasped on an ankle iron and tossed their boss and their creditors the key, and many times that ankle iron looks like a really nice house or a really nice car that they financed at only 2.99% interest. Bosses sense that their employees are afraid of losing their job, and leverage that into longer hours and less pay.

p3So many people do this crap that the bosses of the world start to forget their place. They start to take for granted that they can tell others what to do unless that person agrees to it, and forget that they are talking to another sentient, intelligent, whole human being who’s chance at freedom was bought and paid for with the blood of their forefathers.

It infuriates me, because if enough people fall into this cycle on one side or the other, now we have a nation of masters and subjects, not a country full of free men and women. We start to see a massive gap in income inequality… a big chasm between the “have’s” and the “have not’s”. The “have’s” take all that extra money and start donating it to politicians who will pass laws for the benefit of the “have’s” at the expense of the rest of us. Pretty soon, you have a bunch of overworked, underpaid, exhausted workers yelling at their TV because of “lying politicians”.

Despite the talking point that Freedom is the birthright of every American, the truth is that it is not. I see many of my friends mired in debt with obligations to others that they cannot escape from. They are most decidedly not free. The real truth is that freedom is earned. It is earned through hard work and sweat and sacrifice on a very individual level.

The other truth is that there is no excuse for any American not to live free. If you work like a crazy person and live below your means, investing your income, you WILL be in a position one day where if someone else threatens to take away “your job”, you can laugh at them, roll your eyes, and go do something else you like.

This freedom is what is at stake when you are standing at the car stealership and a salesman with a toothy grin is trying to sell you a car that costs 50% of your annual income… even before you start to pay interest on it. This freedom is what you are gambling with when you decide to put that really nice vacation on your credit card. When you walk into Lennar’s 2700 sq ft model and start thinking about how you can “afford” the monthly payment if you brown bag your lunches from now on, guess what it’s really costing you?

I see horrible stories about elderly people in America eating Alpo because they have no money. Many of these people probably drove really nice cars when they were younger. I bet now they would tell you the truth… their freedom was way more valuable than whatever they sold it for.

So this year, I’d like to ask that we all respectfully take a second and evaluate ourselves and our priorities. Are we doing what we are doing because we are hard, ambitious, self sufficient and frugal workers who value freedom and thus earn the respect of the people who choose pay us for our services, skills, and time? Or are we doing what we are doing because we have debts, obligations, fear, and no choice?

Sobering thought for early July, isn’t it?



emusteveWhat is “Freedom” Really?