Thursday, August 05, 2010

'Freedom From' vs 'Freedom To'

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My recent thoughts on financial freedom extended to interesting TFP reader discussion here, which in turn provoked more thoughts of my own that I would like to share now...

When speaking of freedom I believe it is important to distinguish, as 20th century philosopher Erich Fromm did, between two forms of freedom: Freedom From and Freedom To:

There is only one possible, productive solution for the relationship of individualized man with the world: his active solidarity with all men and his spontaneous activity, love and work, which unite him again with the world, not by primary ties but as a free and independent individual.... However, if the economic, social and political conditions... do not offer a basis for the realization of individuality in the sense just mentioned, while at the same time people have lost those ties which gave them security, this lag makes freedom an unbearable burden. It then becomes identical with doubt, with a kind of life which lacks meaning and direction. Powerful tendencies arise to escape from this kind of freedom into submission or some kind of relationship to man and the world which promises relief from uncertainty, even if it deprives the individual of his freedom. ~ Erich Fromm

Freedom From: This, according to Fromm, is negative freedom and it is based in fear because it is sought as relief from uncertainty or from restrictions placed on the individual by society (other people) and/or institutions (e.g. government, financial creditors). The pursuit of freedom from can paradoxically reduce or remove one's freedom.

For our purposes here, specifically with regard to the idea of financial freedom, one must be careful not to seek money only as a means to "buy freedom" from something, such as work, from society, from debt or from whatever it is one wishes to escape, unless this freedom from is attached to (or followed by) a freedom to something...

Freedom To: This is the healthy form of freedom because it is the form where the individual obtains the capacity to be creative, to act as the authentic self. When one obtains the means to be authentic, they are enabled to reach the highest form of productivity because their actions are purposeful and meaningful; thus the actions are self-feeding and self-radiating; therefore, the individual is happy by virtue of doing -- they are free because they are acting as the authentic self, not because of a certain or pre-defined amount of financial capacity.

Where many people are mistaken, in my humble opinion, is that freedom to can only be obtained after freedom from. This is the primary reason why I don't like the conventional idea of financial freedom; because many people are led to the mistaken belief that money buys freedom; that one can only be free, to act as the authentic self, once a certain financial objective has been met.

Furthermore, there is never truly freedom from money because money is required as a means of exchange for the things that meet your physiological needs; you will always have some need for money as a tool.

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." ~ Viktor Frankl

Freedom from, therefore, is a choice; and where my ideas of freedom depart slightly from Erich Fromm's is that social, political, and economic entities are not conditions absolutely necessary for freedom. Society, governments and institutions will always have their objectives that are somewhat restrictive to the individual; some more restrictive than others. Choice, however, remains the primary means of freedom.

If one believes that freedom is essentially the capacity to act as the authentic self, it is therefore in one's best interest to seek and find (and act as) the authentic self; and not necessarily seek to acquire a large sum of money or to seek the help of society to create the freedom.

You must first ask "What is the purpose of my life?" before asking "What is the purpose of my money?" Once the first question is answered, you have thus answered the second. Making your money a tool for life, and not making your life a tool for money, is a choice.

In summary, and most importantly, by placing meaning before money and purpose before planning, your freedom becomes freedom to rather than freedom from.

Are there any more thoughts on freedom you would like to share? Are there social, political and economic conditions necessary for one to be free? What is freedom? Additionally, are people (or you) afraid of freedom? Can the pursuit of freedom paradoxically limit one's freedom?

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