Can freedom be misused?

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    Dear Prabhuji, can freedom be misused?


    Unlike slavery, freedom can be misused. It is said that to err is human; hence, any human being can inadequately use his or her freedom. Slavery, on the other hand, can never be misused. 

    Prisoners are deprived of their ability to choose. Slaves cannot misuse their captivity.

    When freedom is taken away, misjudgment is also impeded. Freedom entails choice and, therefore, the possibility of taking a wrong direction. For Aristotle, human beings are rational creatures, but their instinct is still animalistic. Even though they have the faculty of reason, they share their instinctive desires with the animal kingdom. According to Descartes, it is nature that pursues its own goals through animals, which act in accordance with the dictates of instinct. Like that of the beasts, human behavior is largely motivated by instinctive demands. However, only human beings have access to freedom and, as a consequence, can misuse it; their freedom entails moral responsibility. In his famous work Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free.” The French philosopher refers to freedom as inherent to the human condition, and to the human beings as responsible for its use. Mankind is the only species capable of being free and of mitigating, sublimating, and transcending desire. 

    For Friedrich Nietzsche, human beings are not the final goal, but only a phase in the process leading to their greatness. Humanity represents an evolutionary bridge between the beast and the superman. 

    “Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman- a rope over an abyss…  What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.” (Thus spoke Zarathustra)

    Nietzsche is right because, unlike animals, the human being is not completed. The chicken is born as a chicken and cannot change its nature. The life of an animal is a finalized process. Human beings, on the other hand, are a phenomenon “under construction.” They are a process between the animal and the Divine natures, between the instinctive and the transcendental essences. They go from unconsciousness to consciousness. They are a rope strung over an abyss into which they can fall if they misuse their freedom. They can hit the bottom or reach the divine heights; elevate or degrade themselves; fall below the mind or transcend it.
    The singularity of human beings lies in the fact that they are not born completed and programmed. Understanding and accepting this freedom turns our life into a challenge to complete ourselves. 

    In the Bible we read: “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’.” (Genesis 1:26). However, many verses declare that God is unique, for example: “… the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” (Deuteronomy 4:39). How can a single God talk in plural? With whom does God speak when he says ‘let us make’? Who else participates in the process of creation? If I say to someone: “Let’s dance,” they will understand that I invite them to be an active participant in the dance. When God says “let us make”, regardless of whom he is addressing, he clearly refers to another active participant in the creation. In fact, he is speaking to man, to Adam. God creates all creatures, but unlike animals and the rest of creation, the human being is not just his work but a partnership. By saying “let us make man,” God tells Adam that my creation, in fact, is ours. Even though I created you, it is your duty to continue. By completing yourself, you are taking part in the divine work.  Human beings are not a finalized creation but the architects of their own destiny. Their essence is freedom. To deny it is to steal their essence. 

    The misuse of freedom is obviously possible, because humans can err. Freedom implies that we can take either right or wrong decisions. If we could not choose wrongly, we would not be truly free. Naturally, going downhill is tempting, because it is always easier than climbing. Descending requires less efforts and energy than ascending. 

    Freedom is a challenge that implies responsibility. We are intimidated by the risk of erring. That is why most people choose to place their lives in the hands of others. We blame others for our defeats and failures. We reproach our parents for the way they raised us, and we put the spiritual master in charge of our enlightenment. Afraid of committing mistakes, we live according to the rules decreed in a sacred book or by a guru. We renounce our freedom to prevent ourselves from making a wrong decision. 

    If we were not afraid to accept responsibility over our lives, human society would be full of enlightened beings. Every day we would see beings like Krishna, Jesus, or Buddha. However, we have been intimidated for centuries, both by politicians and religious leaders. The former have scared us with poverty, hunger, and wars; the latter, with their hells. Fear was cultivated with the aim of dominating the masses, and that is why there are so few enlightened beings. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.” 

    Accepting freedom does not safeguard us from committing errors, but they will be no longer considered failures. As Karl Jung said: “In this way, the last thing I want to tell you, dear friends, is the following: live your life the best possible way that you can, even if your life is based on an error. Because life must be consumed, and truth is reached, slowly, by error.” Instead of defeats, errors are considered an integral part of our evolutionary learning process. 

    It is not my intention to restrict anyone’s freedom but to help you to understand it. Having comprehended what freedom is, take your own decisions. Fear not to commit mistakes, because in your long process of development, errors are as important as successes. The important thing is not to avoid falling down, but to understand the lesson. In the school of life, we learn both from our defeats and triumphs. 
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