What Does Freedom Really Mean?

The idea of freedom stirs the human spirit like no other concept. People in jail long for freedom, and those living under oppressive regimes yearn to experience the same liberation that Americans enjoy. But what does freedom really mean? It’s important to realize that true freedom isn’t found in escaping from society or living on the edge. Rather, true freedom can be discovered through a journey of understanding what makes you genuinely happy, what is truly valuable and what sets your soul on fire.

One popular definition of freedom is the ability to do whatever you want without anyone preventing you from doing so. But, taken to the extreme, this view would lead to dangerous anarchy. Freedom is more complicated than this. It is more akin to the freedom of a piano player who uses discipline and restraint to create beautiful music. Similarly, we can say that someone is free to bang on the keys of their piano at random, or they can follow an instructor who guides them in their use of the instrument. In this way, they are using the piano as it was intended to be used.

Another important definition of freedom is the ability to follow your own beliefs in matters of religion and morality. This is sometimes referred to as “freedom of conscience.” However, the word freedom can also be used more broadly to refer to freedom from oppression, harm or discrimination.

A third important definition of freedom is the ability to pursue your personal goals and dreams without restriction. Whether that means quitting a job that doesn’t make you happy, speaking your mind to someone who has wronged you or taking the time off work that you need – it’s all part of the concept of personal freedom.

The fourth and final definition of freedom is the ability to live without fear. The most obvious way this can be achieved is by eliminating the threat of war and terrorism. But it can also be achieved by developing economic understandings that ensure each country has the resources to provide its inhabitants with a healthy, peaceful life. Lastly, the world can achieve freedom from fear by reducing its armaments to such an extent that no nation will ever be in a position to commit a physical act of aggression against its neighbors.

Individual freedom is a natural human right that allows us to explore our potential and live on our own terms. It is a right that is vital for a fulfilling and happy life.

Ultimately, what defines your freedom is how you choose to use it in your relationships and your pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s to travel, to speak your mind, to be yourself, to love others and even to choose your own path in life, freedom is a journey that starts in our own hearts. May you find your freedom on this journey, wherever it takes you. Michael J. Donnelly is an Army Veteran of more than 15 years who serves as an officer for the VA health care system in Anchorage, Alaska.