It happened over two decades ago. When my readings those days took me to the world of Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre and the awe-inspiring Fyodor Dostoevsky and their philosophy of existentialism, I knew I was hooked. But I wasn’t prepared for what followed.
Those ‘existential’ writers soon came to have a telling effect on my thinking. They all emphasised on the existence of individual as a fully free person, whereas I saw all around me restrictions that shackled my freedom – governmental, societal, institutional, family… Too many rules, too many restrictions, too many no-nos. Soon I began to question the world I was in. Why do I have to live in a world where I do not have any freedom to be what I want to be? I argued with friends, reasoned with whoever cared to listen and questioned my authorities. I didn’t see any meaning in pulling on.
Soon dangerous thoughts swelled up within. And one day I reached perilously close to a breakdown. Pacing furiously across my room that day like a deranged person, I shouted… I screamed at the world at the top of my voice… I thought my head would snap… Right then, like a bolt from the blue, I experienced a flash of lightning pass through me and I felt like someone telling me in a very calm voice: ‘Truth will make you free’.
I was stunned. There was total silence. It was like a lull after the storm. I collapsed on my bed. And then I experienced a very soothing feeling. I don’t know how long I remained in that reverie. I stayed on that sentence, tried to figure out its meaning. Soon light emerged. Things became crystal clear. The truth began to sink in: Let there be rules, restrictions, curbs… but as long as I know I am true to myself and I live this truth, nothing can shackle me.
That was the beginning of my journey to freedom. I discovered a new meaning in this journey. The curbs and the laws that I found too stifling in the past no more had their shackling effect on me. Because I knew as long as my integrity was intact, my conscience was clear, I didn’t have to worry about those rules. That was my TRUTH. That was my FREEDOM.
I found a new meaning to the idea of freedom. Freedom, I discovered, was my ability to live my TRUTH without any compromise. By living my truth, I could face consequences too. But I should be prepared for them. Freedom is a series of choices I make based on my inner truth, my conscience.
Freedom is not my ability or my choice to do anything I like. Freedom is my ability to choose the path that gives both me and the world around true happiness.
I can choose to stay in the anesthetising security of being identified with the majority. I can choose to take the path that takes me to momentary ‘happiness’ that society accords. OR, I can choose to go against the flow, be a non-conformist and live my TRUTH that would give me lasting happiness; that would help me live holding my head high. This choice may win me few friends and many enemies. That’s a price I should be prepared to pay. But then there is happiness and fulfilment in living an uncompromising life and not succumbing to societal pressures. It’s better to die standing…
This is the path respected men and women in history chose. The best example is Jesus, the world’s most famous rebel. The guy rebelled against the system for what he believed in. He rebelled to live his TRUTH. Of course, he knew what awaited him: Cross.
So how am I going to exercise my freedom? I am free to choose the path I take. When I see injustice, disorder and, in many cases, lawlessness all-round, I can choose to crib about it, I can choose to whine about it, I can choose to curse people involved in such activities. OR, I can choose to wet my feet and make a difference, I can take action to find solutions and leave a smile on the faces of people I meet. I could find myself in the minority. That’s my CHOICE. That’s my TRUTH. That’s my FREEDOM. And that’s how I find HAPPINESS.
We all have the same choice. We all are “capable of changing the world for the better if possible and changing oneself for the better if necessary”, as Victor Frankl would put it. We all have that capability within us. And when one is able to combine that freedom of choice with a commitment to the responsibilities one has towards the world around us, one can achieve anything one loves and live a life of freedom and fulfilment. That is like taking the road less travelled by and discovering that it has made all the difference.