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‘To me, freedom means knowing who you are, knowing what you want, and then actually doing it.’ A quote of mine from an article about me, titled Dit kind geeft alles voor vrijheid [This child goes all out for freedom], written by Ton Verheijen.
The importance of the concept of freedom to me is expressed in more than just the article mentioned above. The school I co-founded is called De Vrije Ruimte. The biography of the creator of Hartman’s value profile and formal axiology, the theory behind the TriMetrix thinking styles, is called: ‘Freedom to live’. The two philosophical books that have inspired me the most over the last few years bear the titles: Vrije Ruimte [Free Space] and The Craft of Freedom: On Discovering One’s Own Will. And my daughters’ birth announcement cards state the maxim: ‘Vrijheid maakt eenheid – eenheid maakt vrijheid’ [Freedom creates unity – Unity creates freedom].
Now freedom is a concept that can easily lead to confusion and vehement discussions, which is why I hereby attempt to explain my view on freedom. Ultimately, I’m concerned with formulating an answer to the question: Why is freedom important in the context of personal development?
Inspired by the book Vrije ruimte [Free Space], I wrote the blog Coaches to masterly teams in 2011. Two quotes: “Personal freedom means the possibility to choose one’s own actions. Choosing and taking responsibility for one’s own actions is not easy. People often feel like there’s nothing to choose, ‘we’ve worked like this for years’, or they feel that things just happen to them, ‘it is not my job’. Increasing people’s awareness of who they are, what they want, what convictions they have and how they differ from others is important to make the right responsible choices. Choices that facilitate a good life, both at a personal and a common level, i.e. masterly choices.”
“In our view, a masterly team is a team that makes conscious choices, aware of its own responsibility. Choices that are good for the individual, the team in which one operates and the people who get to deal with the effects of the choices made.”
Obtaining freedom or free space is about: increasing awareness, taking responsibility and choosing one’s own actions. Individually as well as in a team or organisation.
Freedom to Live
In Freedom to live, Hartman’s autobiography, he describes his view on what makes a human being a good person. A person is good if (s)he fulfils the concept of being human. His greatest example, mentioned in his book, is his cleaning lady. He writes the following about her: “Although Maria doesn’t know that much, and hardly received any education, she appears to be fully aware of herself, and she lives accordingly. She lives in accordance with her Self. All she needs to do is to be, completely.”
The point is here also to be aware and to live accordingly. If you’re not aware of your Self, then …. “actually you only live a little bit, and this is a ubiquitous danger in well-organised societies. It‘s easy to let yourself be carried along with the stream. You may seem quite important, you may be rich, you may be the best in your field, you may be the most powerful person in your area, but if you‘re not aware of your inner Self, this inner life, you don‘t amount to much, you don‘t have life. You leave your Self unfulfilled. You may not be aware of it, but you suffer from what Soeren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, called the “Sickness unto Death”: you live in the world, but you are dead in spirit.” Says Hartman.
If you have no freedom to live, you become a plaything of the world around you. The choices you make, the extent to which you take responsibility, is dictated by others than yourself. And others take no account of your Self. The result, in Hartman’s words: “If you do not live in accordance with your Self, you do not completely fulfil the concept of ‘human being’, you only live a small part of your potential.”
Freedom is about knowing the Self, living accordingly and realising one’s potential.
The Craft of Freedom
According to Peter Bieri’s Craft of Freedom, we can choose to become someone. We can develop ourselves, we can mould ourselves.
The craft of freedom provides us with tools to discover the Self. To do this, it is important to live consciously. It is important for you to know your personal history, to know your environment and to know what you want. And then, in accordance with yourself, to choose those activities that will make your will come true.
The extent to which you are able to convert your will into actions is the extent to which you experience freedom, according to Bieri. And you can only discover your own will by yourself. The will is unique for every individual, and depends on one’s physical needs, feelings, character, history, skills and environment. That’s why obtaining freedom is a craft. There is no standard recipe; there is no one to tell you how to obtain freedom.
And if you don’t succeed in obtaining freedom, Bieri teaches us, this will result in the following: you become a person who follows someone else’s opinions without an opinion of their own; you regularly change track without a clear reason; you are dependent on someone else’s will, for instance a parent, organisation, or government; you act on impulses or fierce emotions. Things happen to you rather than you choosing them yourself.
In short, you feel unfree.
In harmony with the world around you
Therefore, it is also important for you to know your environment. Freedom is always dependent on the world around you, the culture in which you live. Making choices and taking responsibility for your Self is one thing. But you live together with other people. And those others play a role in your life.
Others also help you to discover your Self. They give you feedback, whether or not solicited. You can gain more in-depth knowledge of others, people or cultures, and wonder how they live, feel, act and think. How they have developed, and what has moulded them. In addition, others will always enter your space, always restrict your freedom. You have to watch out for this, otherwise chances are that you won’t live in accordance with yourself but associate with what other people consider important.
The possibilities you have are strongly determined by the world or culture in which you live. What you are going to do in this environment, what you want, is up to you. It is all about harmony. Harmony between the world around you and who you are, what you want and what you have to do. Without this harmony between the Self and the world in which you live, you will not experience freedom.
The values that are important to live in freedom are well expressed in the illustration of the six thinking styles of Hartman’s value profile.
The quote at the beginning of this article is therefore incomplete. It should have been: “To me, freedom means knowing who you are, knowing what you want, and then actually doing it in harmony with the world around you”.
Freedom and being free or experiencing free space is all about awareness and becoming aware of your Self and your environment, knowing your intentions and knowing what you may want. Then you can take responsibility and perform the right action, that suits you as well as the environment and world in which you live.
If you don’t experience this freedom and harmony, it will affect your personal development. You feel restricted; you get stuck in the past or in only thinking of what you want rather than doing it. Or you aim for something not you, but someone else considers important.
In short, this freedom is a condition for personal development, for achieving your full potential. It is a condition for being human. It is the condition for being able to experience happiness.