21. Freedom — Part Two

Last week I said that the days of people being shackled in chains have gone, but that a new generation of ‘slaves’ has replaced them — those enslaved by thought. I also said that it was a bold statement that needed justification — so here goes.

First remind ourselves what we discovered about freedom; we established that the only real, true, unfettered freedom we have is that of thought.

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind

  • Virginia Woolf

I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind

  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery

But the German philosopher Max Stirner also said:

Whoever will be free must make himself free. Freedom is no fairy gift to fall into a man's lap.

And that’s the problem Goethe was talking about because if we believe we’re already free then we’re not going to plan our escape. We forget that among the greatest gifts given to us are the powers of free thought and free will; the very things which give us the stamp of individuality.

And I think Herr Stirner was a little off the mark about that gift falling into a man’s lap — I think it’s a gift we’ve already received, we’ve just put it away and forgotten about it.

Forgetting means we don’t give any thought to something, and if we don’t give any thought to something, we can’t use it.

We go through our days using what we think is ‘free will’ without realising that it’s an illusion, an illusion designed to cover up the fact that you are thoughtlessly reacting to whatever happens. That what you perceive as conscious choice is nothing but an automatic response.

And more than that, most times we don’t see that this automatic response is negative, that it’s generating the wrong kind of thought entirely.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself

  • Leo Tolstoy

Don’t misunderstand what Tolstoy meant by ‘changing the world’. The principle applies down to the smallest scale. When the slightest ‘bad’ things happen to us or when someone ‘makes’ us angry or upset we might find ourselves wishing it hadn’t happened, wishing we could change the world to one where everything goes our way.

And that’s how we build our personal jails, that’s how we become prisoners of our own minds.

And it’s a tragedy, because unless we change our way of thinking, we’re condemning ourselves to a life sentence.

So, how do we escape?

Bit by bit, that’s how.

Remember the character Andy Dufresne in the ‘Shawshank Redemption’? He took 19 years to dig a tunnel out of his cell using only a tiny hammer.

Like Andy, we have to be patient and accept that we may fail.

Liberty is a slow fruit. It is never cheap; it is made difficult because freedom is the accomplishment and perfectness of man.

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

And that’s OK, because the very act of trying to escape will improve our lives — as Peter Ustinov once said:

If you're going to be a prisoner of your own mind, the least you can do is make sure it's well furnished.

It’s really as simple as just thinking about thought — Not letting those automatic responses pass without checking their ID’s — Making sure they’re not saboteurs.

And once there is a bit of distance between you and your thought process, new freedom appears.

We just heard Ralph Waldo say that freedom is the accomplishment and perfectness of man.

Few of us will ever reach that perfection, but there have been a few that have; Nelson Mandela must surely be one.

He had a long time to think about freedom — 27 years. So there can be no better way to finish this article than to hear from him.

He knew that prisons are not just made of steel bars and concrete walls; he knew they are made of thought. Here’s what was in his head as he walked out the front gate of the Victor Verster Prison in suburban Cape Town on the sun-splashed afternoon of Feb. 11, 1990.

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

He also said:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

So go cast off those chains and start digging………. Because, as Albert Camus said:

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.


I won’t be posting anything else here until 5th December. That’s because I’m taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I aim to produce a 50,000 word first draft fiction novel in 30 days and I’ll be updating progress on my author website www.neilhawkesford.com.

It’s an enormous challenge, and I have to give myself the best chance of success by freeing up some space in my head.

I appreciate your understanding.