As a child, I didn’t have much in the way of personal freedom. My parents had imposed strict rules about study and play time, and I wasn’t allowed to go out a lot. The atmosphere at home was quite restrictive and I hated it; I couldn’t wait to move out and go off to college. Little did I know that all the freedom I desperately wanted came with a lot of responsibilities.
Even though college life wasn’t devoid of rules, I enjoyed freedom of many kinds. I could stay up all night, eat junk food and watch movies whenever I wanted. There was no fixed study time; there weren’t too many assignments to begin with. And I was free to fill my wardrobe with clothes of my choice. While it was all refreshing at first, the novelty wore off soon. I found myself dozing off in classes because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I flunked a few tests because I hadn’t bothered preparing. And all the fancy clothes I bought drained my pocket money, leaving me broke.
My parents had indeed warned me that freedom came with responsibility. But I didn’t understand what that meant until I faced the consequences of my irresponsible behaviour. And this lesson is one I continue to remind myself to this day, for it is easy to take freedom for granted. Each of us might enjoy freedom of many kinds—freedom of belief, choice and expression; freedom to live life as we want. But when exercised carelessly, it might hurt us and those around us. For example, everybody is free to go out for a couple of drinks after a long day at work. But when someone irresponsibly decides to drive home after drinking, they stand to hurt themselves and those on the road.
Maybe, in a sense, we are all wired to take our freedom for granted. When we have something in abundance, we assume it is something we would always have.
As it turns out, we all have the freedom of choice, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices. Of course, our hope is that the consequences are ‘good’ and beneficial to our lives, but there is always the chance that things could go wrong. Lekha B, a finance professional, recalls an incident from her life when freedom cost her, quite literally. “A few years ago, I got a credit card to help me manage my expenses better. It was exciting, as I felt like I had the freedom to spend money on things I liked at any time during the month. But eventually, when the bill came due, it was always a shock. I couldn’t believe how much I had spent. With the mistakes I made came the lesson that I can’t pull out my credit card every time I felt the urge to buy something,” she shares.
Lekha isn’t alone in her experience. Many among us might have gone through something similar before learning our lesson. Maybe, in a sense, we are all wired to take our freedom for granted. When we have something in abundance, we assume it is something we would always have. We might even be tempted to abuse it once in a while. Psychologist Joy Bannerjee agrees. “It’s in our nature to take our freedom for granted and not value it. We forget the cost and condition we have to exchange for that freedom,” he says.
The solution, then, is to be mindful of what freedom means to us and how we exercise it. This would help us practise active restraint and judgement while taking decisions. While this might be easier said than done, it is something we must work on, given that the alternative would mean squandering our freedom and opportunities. As American activist Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”
Inputs provided by Sai Priankaa B