No One Buys Freedom Without Paying For It With Bravery
“To think that men and women are born free took people who were prepared to brave these thoughts.”
It is rare if a day goes by and I don’t receive a piece of mail or electronic mail promising me financial freedom. I am also promised that little or nothing by way of talent or effort is required on my part. "The only man who is really free," wrote Jules Renard, "is one who can turn down an invitation to dinner without giving any excuse."
In the Star Spangled Banner America is referred to as "the land of the free, home of the brave." And I’ve been thinking about that. And I’ve been thinking about the linking of freedom and bravery. And I have a few thoughts.
The words "land of the free" precedes "home of the brave" because no one is free who isn’t required to become brave. Freedom may be a right, but being right doesn’t mean that people aren’t out to wrong you. In American history the Fourth of July represents a day when it was decided that the fight for freedom was worth fighting. Like most life battles worth fighting thinking about the implications of winning was probably an afterthought.
Winners are usually people who focus more on the fight in front of them then how they’re going to live with the winning ahead of them. Living with winning often turns out to be its own battle. Victory in life seldom delivers what we expected and often what is unexpected.
When the ideas of freedom and bravery are raised we generally tend to think of these concepts in military terms. The reason for this is because bravery and freedom are often tied to battle calls and because when we hitch these notions to calls of battle we don’t have to integrate freedom and bravery into our day to day lives. It is too much for most of us to take bravery and freedom into the grocery store or the dressing room let alone into our manner of being and living. To think that men and women are born free took people who were prepared to brave these thoughts. Brave thinking frees thinking just as enslaved thoughts are self-enslaving.
"When people are free to do as they please," wrote the American philosopher and longshoreman Eric Hoffer, "they usually imitate each other." The idea of being of free to be who we are takes more bravery than most of us can muster. To be who we are, as opposed to who others think we should be, terrifies us because we often feel it will set us apart. To be set apart makes us feel that we will be left alone. To be left alone triggers primal feelings of abandonment. To be cut off from "our tribe" or "our clan" raises pre-historical feelings of being left to die.
Fears of homelessness and starvation are not always imaginary nor are they always played out in the ways we usually think of them. Many of us acting just like everyone else are actually starving to be who we are, and until we feel at home in ourselves who among us doesn’t feel in some way homeless.
"In our country," wrote Mark Twain, "we have three unspeakable precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either." The land of the free and the home of the brave are irrevocably linked. You can’t be one without the other. Forgetaboutit! If someone tries to sell you one without the other, they’re just jerking your chain. No one, any time, any place has ever bought freedom without paying for it with bravery.
America as the land of the free and home of the brave is as much of a personal issue as a social issue. Individuals are the seeds of a society, and people who are self-enslaved don’t grow a free society. Think globally; act locally. People who want to assure a free society first have to take care of business at home.
Free yourself if you would hope to liberate another. Enslave yourself and you inevitably enslave others. Like misery, self-enslaved people like company and usually the company of other slaves so our own enslavement isn’t put in our face by the juxtaposition of friendship with a free soul.
Be brave and you will give courage to others. Be a coward to your own soul and you encourage cowardice of the spirit. Bravery is very different from bravado. Bravado is bravery hooked on hot air. Bravado doesn’t need to be cut down, it only needs a pin prick. Bravery is often inversely quiet to its actions which speak loudly. People who strut and pose with their bravery are often confusing character with character actor. Projecting how we want to be seen is very different from letting others see who we are. Bravery is not the absence of fears but simply and resolutely refusing to put our fears in charge.
Freedom and bravery aren’t the same thing but are symbiotic. They live off each other and because of each other. Freedom and bravery aren’t only a soldier’s job in a distant land. Freedom and bravery are as relevant at ground zero – the ground you are standing on. An isolated young man who refuses to join a gang is exercising his freedom and his bravery. A single mother who doesn’t want to teach her children to hate their father is exercising freedom and bravery. An old man or woman who doesn’t want to accept society’s notion of what it means to be old is exercising his or her freedom and bravery. Anyone who exercises their freedom and bravery should stand up and be saluted – certainly by themselves.
What is the bravest thing you did in your life? When did you last exercise real freedom? Ask yourself. Ask your partner. Ask your children. This Fourth of July share with one someone else not only your courage but your fears. People who are afraid to excavate their fears never get around to building a solid foundation on which to construct courage. People who are afraid to face their fears never would have faced the English at Lexington.
Freedom is more than the freedom to do something dangerous or stupid and back it up by calling it bravery. Too often we will avoid real issues of freedom and bravery to do something ridiculous which is designed to impress ourselves and others but primarily serves as psychological cape work. A great bull fighter can be full of bull. Doing something dangerous and stupid and calling it bravery is courageous littering. It is throwing away the best for something that matters least.
Real freedom and real bravery is the right we give ourselves to face what we fear most. Every social norm was once an idea that was a social outlaw. The British did not see the American Revolution as an act of heroism or bravery. The idea that "all men are created equal" was a revolutionary idea that upset those who heretofore simply defined themselves as by birth being superior to others. What a ruling society most fears is any individual who will face society’s social norm and see the Emperor as naked – buck naked.
"When we observe one person ruling over people, dictating to the entire state," wrote the philosopher Jacob Klatzkin, "we are really watching a large group of human beings conducting themselves with fear. But who do they fear? In reality the slaves are immeasurably superior to their master in terms of power. But each slave sees himself as one against all his fellow slaves. If they desire to rebel they are afraid of one another. It is not the ruler who is the source of the fear, but the army of slaves who follow his orders. Or, if you will, they fear themselves. Their weakness is an imagination, a slave’s error. All great revolutions are really the correcting of this misconception, an error in the minds of the enslaved."
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence: Five were tried by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Several lost sons who were serving in the Revolutionary Army. Nine fought and died. John Hart of New Jersey was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying. Their thirteen children had to flee for their lives. His fields and his grain gristmill were laid to waste. For over a year he hid in deep forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children gone. Within a few weeks he died of exhaustion and heartbreak.
Freedom isn’t free. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires bravery. Let us remind our children and ourselves of that. And let us remind our children and ourselves that the battle for freedom is fought not only on a hill named Bunker but just as often in the night’s private darkness of our own bed.
And a necessary closing thought: While freedom and bravery are often linked to war, and the glories of war, peace is the real triumph in life. In scripture there is a prayer that ends with a request for "peace and blessing." For years I couldn’t figure out why blessings didn’t come first. With age however I have come to learn that peace precedes blessing because any peace we find in life is its own blessing, and any blessing we receive in life is no blessing if it doesn’t bring us peace.
"None who have always been free can understand the terrible fascinating power of the hope of freedom to those who are not free."
– Pearl S. Buck
Noah benShea Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved