The Definition of Freedom
To quote Kris Kristofferson and later Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”
I often wonder what defines freedom and how do we form our beliefs about whether we are free or not. I think that people believe freedom means you have so much to lose, since many people seem to value their freedom more than anything else. However, the lyric quoted above seems very much contradictory to what most people would believe freedom is to them.
For me, I believe that freedom is the ability to do what you want, when you want, and how you want. This may seem obvious but everyone has a different definition of freedom and their definition would influence their life, and choices, in its own way.
I think, that most expatriates and world travelers would tend to agree with my version of freedom and want to live using this definition. If we felt otherwise, we’d probably never leave home and just accept the world we are given by the media and the people we know. However, this doesn’t seem to suit most travelers and expats as we continue to question what is freedom, what is life, and to a certain extent, what is reality and how do we define what we want and where we want to be.
I know that our being able to travel, and not being tied down to a mortgage, rent, a loan, a car, or most anything else, is a type of freedom that many people don’t have. I also have the freedom to have enough money to do this and a partner that supports it, and even more so, encourages it as that is the lifestyle she also wants to lead. We also have both made the decision not to have kids which makes our freedom even easier as we don’t have to take care of others, worry about their education, or do anything other than be self sufficient in our choices. That being stated, we know of many other travelers who do have kids and have been able to make this choice and travel the world. It does not preclude them from choosing this type of freedom.
However, there is also a loss of freedom in being a world traveler. It is something that both Jill and I are acutely aware of and we balance this loss with the gains that being less encumbered bring us in our lives.
The major loss of freedom that we both feel is that loss of being close to our family and friends when major events occur in their, or our, lives.
This has happened to us a number of times while we were living in China and it also reminded us that we are far away from the ones we love and cherish. There is a loneliness that comes with being so far away from others and I believe that is why so many expatriates seem to band together and build their own community. Jill and I definitely did this when we were living in China and ended up with a very close knit group of friends that helped us stay stable, grounded and allowed us to feel like we weren’t alone.
We still felt the pain of loss and death when someone close to us died back home. The question of whether to fly home and go to a funeral hit both Jill and me at different times and it was a very difficult choice. It is a bit embarrassing to admit it but there is a very real cost benefit analysis to be done when you live overseas and you lose someone you love dearly. The question of money, time, travel and so many other questions arise and they are always hard to answer.
The biggest question for both of us, though, is how will it affect the memory of the person that has passed. To miss a funeral, of someone you love, is not easy and there are lingering doubts, even now, of what it would have meant for us to go back home, pay respect and be at the funeral. It is a choice that we know we will be faced with again and it makes being an expatriate a more difficult choice.
Strangely enough, one month after we arrived to house sit in the tiny town of Los Pargos, Costa Rica, one of the local men in this community died. He suffered a heart attack and the whole town basically shut down for a day. There was a memorial which we passed by and gave condolences to the few people we had met in town.
As an psychotherapist working in Beijing, some of my clients also had to deal with loss and giving up their freedom to be there. Some made the choice to move to China while others were told their careers depended on it. They realized that this was a choice to help them, and their families move ahead. However, their partners didn’t seem to have as much freedom as they weren’t allowed to work since the visa requirements didn’t allow it. They were stuck and there was often a feeling of loneliness, exclusion and that they were not living the life they had planned.
Many of the partners were women who had chosen to follow their husbands career choice while having to either give up their own or put them on hold for the length of the job contract. Most of the job contracts lasted about 3 years and when you consider that many of these women were in the corporate world, and at executive level, that is a lot of freedom to give up.
What defines freedom for you?
How do friends and family define freedom for themselves?
Has your definition of freedom changed over the years? If so, how has it changed in the last five years, ten years, etc.?
Can you imagine five, ten, or twenty years into the future and what your definition of freedom might be like then?
If you don’t feel free at this moment, what would you change about your situation?
If you were to make that change, what would be the very first step?
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