As the 4th of July rolled around the corner, I began thinking about the meaning of independence. What does it mean to live a free life? To be “free” and to attain independence is sometimes perceived as a fight, something to be reached and attained. While I can’t deny the fact that being free is a right, I often struggle with our perception of freedom.
On the day of the 4th, I found out about a family friend’s death, one which we soon came to find was drug related. So once again, I revisited this question: What does it mean to live a free life? I continuously find one of the many avenues my peers are turning to “for a way out” are artificial, short-term fixes. It can be TV as a distraction, drugs or alcohol to ease the pain or blow off steam, or friendships of convenience to fill the void of loneliness.
A recent New York Times article states, “…deaths rose 19 percent over the 52,404 recorded in 2015. And all evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017”. There are a million and one reasons we can point to which lead to the increasing number of deaths. There are underlying complexities that date back to generations of hurt and pain. There are emotions which drive us further apart from one another, the earth, and even worse, ourselves.
Statistics show we are living longer and less people are dying from preventable diseases. If the numbers are telling us we are supposed to live longer, why are we unhappier?
Leaps are being made in technology and our minds are creating more tools which we believe ensure a happy and prosperous life. This isn’t just an American story, but a global story.
When we seek to remedy a wrong, we are looking to heal and remedy our own pain. I am frequently brought back to the words of Charles Eisenstein: If you do anything in your life, do this one thing: pass on less pain than you have received.
So, I continuously wonder, how it is possible to pass on a little less hurt and fear to our future generations. I’ve been only beginning to acknowledge my own hurt by naming and then questioning it.
Often my own pain is rooted in expectation. We are living in a state of perpetuated illusion of freedom. We buy into a life, a formula that ultimately, as we believe, leads us to happiness.
From Charles Eisenstein’s The Ascent of Humanity he writes, “The conventional response is to try to hold everything together, to maintain the illusion of independence by extending it still further. It is to remedy the failure of control by applying even more control. The importance we place on independence from the social and material world has deep roots in our basic mythology. In the fundamentally indifferent universe of Newton or the fundamentally competitive world of Darwin, independence from the rest of the world is surely a good thing. By owning more and more of the world we make it safe, make it ours. We gain mastery over the random forces buffeting us, and we maximize the resources available for our own survival benefit.
The very formula that we believe will lead us to liberation is actually the one which holds us captive. We are trapped by constructs which lead us astray from the creativity and lofty idealism we once inhabited as children. We learn to engage in the blame game and fuel hatred towards the blazing fire of injustice, hatred, and oppression. What if we are buying into this perpetuated illusion that leads us into trapped societal constructs led by generations of oppression and hate?
How does this relate to the drug overdoses amongst the young people of America? How does it relate to July 4th 1941 and the many other independence days which have proceeded that day?
We live in a society that is fundamentally been built on problem-solving. In Economics 101, we learn about supply and demand. We learn about substitute and complementary goods. Peanut butter is complementary to jelly. Peanut butter can be substituted by something like Almond butter.
What we have done to goods, we have done to each other. We have done it to nature. In many circles, disposability has become the basis of our interaction with one another.
I see it on a micro level, sometimes it is so unnoticeable. The little moments we don’t think affect a family member, friend, or colleague. It’s lasting effects aren’t seen immediately. However, we zoom out and on a macro level, we see it as an explosion and the aftermath of the pain we see in our communities today.
A while back, I watched Courtney E. Martin’s Ted Talk Living the American Dream. In it she started off by saying:
We live in tenuous times. In fact, for the first time in American history, the majority of parents do not think that their kids will be better off than they were. This is true of rich and poor, men and women. Now, some of you might hear this and feel sad. After all, America is deeply invested in this idea of economic transcendence, that every generation kind of leapfrogs the one before it, earning more, buying more, being more. We've exported this dream all over the world, so kids in Brazil and China and even Kenya inherit our insatiable expectation for more. But when I read this historic poll for the first time, it didn't actually make me feel sad. It felt like a provocation. "Better off" -- based on whose standards?
So if statistics tell us we are better off, why do I feel we are not actually that much liberated?
So what are you in pursuit of?
At the end of the day, freedom and healing the pain of our societies means creating community. It means filling the gaps and building relationships. It means understanding we are not substitute goods. We are living beings living in a breathing world. Our time here is temporary. It is borrowed. We are a blip on the radar and all that will come after us will continue long after we have departed.