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Brainstorm: What is personal freedom?

What comes to mind when you think of personal freedom?

What concepts and ideas (positive or negative) do you associate with it?

This is an underlying theme in my novel and I'm trying to explore it from different prespectives. There is no right or wrong answer. Just what comes to your mind. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

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Replies (71)
  • I associate personal freedom with courage. Not just because if you live in a dictatorship you need courage to speak out, but because even in a democracy you need courage to live the life the way you want to. 

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    • I associate personal freedom with agency: the ability not only to make choices, but to enact those choices. In part, that is about having the resources (time, finances, lack of worry); in part, it is about knowing how to navigate and manipulate one's environment.

      And I'll stop before I go too deep down that rabbit hole.

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      • I agree with Rick. Agency. The ability to decide for myself how and what to think, believe, read, say and (crucially) act, without coercion (physical, psychological or emotional). To put it in rather grandiose terms, to be 'master of my own destiny'.

        In practice, of course, I doubt that any of us have that completely (even Jeff Bezos!) as we're all affected by our situations, our pasts, our emotions and our cognitive biases. But as an aspiration...

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        • Personal freedom - is being able to live your life on your own terms without affecting others in a negative way. We are lucky, we live in probably the world's oldest and most liberal democracy, where freedom of speech is jealously defended.

          Thankfully you can now be openly gay, genderless, have children without being married or even having a partner, demonstrate against/for the government and live where you want. I worked in various theatre groups up and down the UK and a large minority of the staff were gay or bi, and some of the funniest, warmest and most wonderful people I have ever met. At the time, (late 90's and early 00's) they were still persecuted and insulted. I suppose they still are but society is much more accepting now, thankfully!

          Some things that will affect personal freedom - Leaving the EU my children when they grow up will not allowed to live in the EU as a right. Online keyboard warriors and trolls, OTT political correctness, the looming recession/depression, zero hours contract positions.

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          • Things such as online keyboard warriors and trolls can only affect people if allowed to. The problem belongs to the perpetrator not the receiver. Lack of fear of the judgements of those small minded people should hopefully free us from restrictions.

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            • While we may not fear them it is the case that frequently their actions impact on people's lives - to wit the Canadian university professor who was sacked due to the media uproar over his using the n-word in a lecture on James Baldwin when he was merely quoting from a passage by the author. 

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              • Very true

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              • I agree with all of the above: Self sufficiency, the courage to not fear judgement and strength to act to your own wishes without influence, the ability to live through pride and not ego, and to be content in one's own head without the need for others. 

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                • A really interesting discussion I remember from Philosophy class at school was how does living in society affect the definition of personal freedom, and when does personal freedom become selfishness?

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                  • I can't reference texts directly. But Western philosophy does argue the supremacy of logic (understandably, given that it's the cornerstone), while Eastern relies on more balanced principles.

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                    • It's probably also relevant to say that the Western philosophy's superiority complex will never be brought up in a direct philosophical comparison. It is more in the angle of popular philosophy, where Eastern is not mentioned, where Western is presented as the only relevant and significant philosophy to discuss.

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                      • That is true about not deigning to recognise.

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                      • Great ideas here, Folks! I'm going to incorporate them in my writing to strengthen the theme and I'll post here the end result. I love writing in fragments, and here are some snippets:

                        The idea of courage is going into a dialogue between my MC and her best friend. MC is getting cold feet abou a life-decision and her best friend says to her... "But what good is personal freedom without the courage to act on it? You must live your life Mariza." Thanks Georgina!

                        The brother of my MC has sacrificed some of his personal freedom to duty, and my MC is aware of that and grateful. She says... "Antonio kept the farm running and the family together. Unselfishly and with a smile on his face." Thanks Laure & Rick!

                        More snippets coming soon... I'll use all of your ideas.


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                        • Personal freedom for me is being able to do what I want and feel appropriate to do in a situation vs doing what my family needs me to do or what society asks me to do. Not harming self/other is implicit.

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                          • Democracy

                            Choice

                            The rule of law

                            Freedom of speech

                            Freedom from oppression

                            Free thought

                            Freedom to act

                            (There are a lot of freedoms)

                            Individualism

                            Liberty


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                            • And liberty is....freedom😁 

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                            • This is indeed very interesting. You make a good point Rick. But we could go back to the original question. What is personal freedom? I suppose it depends on the indiviual. If someone's personal freedom is to do what they want, when they want, how they want, regardless of their dependants, friends or whoever around them, I would consider that selfish. But then, they're still free, because they're not affected by what I think. 

                              I do think this could get very deep.

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                              • Good point Charlie! My MC is indeed a free-spirited woman who's not affected by what others think. Unless they are close family.

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                                • Taking that idea and applying it back to personal freedom, I would say, does not so much define personal freedom as identify a point that is outside personal freedom.

                                  Where the individual's lack of agreement with societal bounds on acceptable behaviour (norms) is in conflict with what the individual would choose to do, then their personal freedom is curtailed.

                                  Yes, this creates an interesting case where they want to do something that is outside the societal bounds they agree with. (e.g. I agree that murder is unacceptable, but I want to kill someone anyway.) This becaomes a question of conflicted morality rather than  one of personal freedom.

                                  (Yay for philosophical rabbit holes.)

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                                • I would still slightly disagree. I think they would still be free in themselves rather than bound. Even if they did commit that murder and was tried and commit, if that is what they wanted to do and they have no qualms with being incarcerated, I believe they are still free mentally as opposed to physically, albeit having commited a selfish, immoral act. Many psychopaths would consider themselves free/unrestricted because they act as they please without fear of the repurcussions. They would not change after their punishments and judgements of society. It is what they choose.

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                                  •  I also believe wanting for nothing is freedom.

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                                    • I've been retninking my agreement in this matter.

                                      You've equated wanting for nothing with contentment, and thereby freedom. But is it really the case?

                                      Are they even connected?

                                      Now, there are different flavours of freedom. There are freedoms from, and there are freedoms to. I contend that wanting for nothing, and by extension the contentment referenced here, fall under the category of a freedom from. It is the freedom from worry, from the stress of external factors undermining one's basic life.

                                      However, the concept of personal freedom, in the sense of Donna's original question, is a freedom to. It is the freedom to make one's own choices. It is the freedom to go after what one wants. It does not imply that one gets it immediately, that there are no obstacles on the way. It does not even mean that one gets what one wants from it, but that one has the freedom, and the agency, to pursue something desired and (personally) considered worthwhile.

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                                      • I get what you're saying. After mulling it over, I don't think it's as black and white as that.

                                        Regardless of ''from' and 'to', if I am content with what little or nothing I have, that is freedom within. It is mine, therefore it is personal. It is almost enlightenment, much as the Buddha with his lack of want of both ends of the spectrum.


                                        Haha. I feel this could go on and on. Kudos, Donna for this forum. 

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                                        • No argument that it is not black and white on the to/from divide. There are multiple types of freedom on both sides.

                                          The point, though, is that contentment is not about a lack of desire. One can have huge desire and still be content: accepting of where one is on the path to achieving those desires given the effort expended, and content with the amount of that effort expended. (A lack of desire is a terrible place to be; it is akin to death. I am reminded of a line from David Gemmell I read many years back: "May all bar one of your dreams come true.") Contentment is a perspective on the past.

                                          And personal freedom is not about the state of contentment. It is about having agency to pursue desires, to not be stimied by circumstances beyond one's control or ken. The "freedom within" you are referring to is, effectively, an absence of self-resentment. It enables freedom to act only insofar as it leaves you unburdened by the psychological torment of self-recrimination.

                                          But that state of contentment, if agency is absent, will not feel at all like freedom. This is because personal freedom is a perspective on the present and future rather than the past.

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                                        • Charlie said: ..."wanting for nothing is freedom"

                                          Great line Charlie! Can I borrow it for my novel, please?


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                                          • mais oui

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                                          • Merci (de Paris)! I'm going to put your line in a dialogue between my MC and her brother. She says something along the lines...

                                            "You had dreams. It must have been hard to leave your career behind. I'm sorry I didn't realise at the time... you sacrificed your freedom to do the right thing."

                                            "Freedom? What freedom? Wanting for nothing is freedom. Look at this land. What else could I wish for?"

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                                            • Don't forget the golden-hour lighting… And the birdsong/dancing chimes/brook.

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                                              • And the smell of bread baking in the stone oven...

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                                                • Only if it's a daybreak golden hour.

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                                                • There are so many good leads here! Thank you guys! I'm going to distil many of these ideas to reinforce the undelying theme of my novel.

                                                  What about your writing? Does the concept of personal freedom come up?

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                                                  • Only, as a primary theme, in my memoir. (Which might explain whi I have so much to say on the subject…)

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                                                    • Yes, very much so and rather, as you touched on earlier, in that the MC has to accept that she can take her freedom, instead of hiding in her old safe but dull life. 

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                                                      • absolutely! My underlying theme turned out to be sexual autonomy and among readers, natural questions include whether the main characters are being selfish or just exercising their freedom. And should they have taken the risks they did? It's a coming of age story.

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                                                      • Not read all the comments so I don't know whether others have said this. For me,  one aspect of personal freedom is freedom m over my time - having the time to do what I want to do, rather than what needs to be done. At the moment, quite practically, that's finding time to focus on my writing, in amongst other commitments. Not a very philosophical answer, I admit.

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                                                        • Ah... Time! Where does it go?

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                                                        • To be at peace with yourself

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                                                          • I think my personal freedom, is about ethics. There has been a lot of ethics in the media lately... Or freedom, is about being your own enemy, bamboozled on both sides, perhaps. Perhaps freedom, is what being personal is all about. Perhaps freedom is about forgetting.

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                                                            • Hi Vincent,

                                                              Excellent  line: "Perhaps freedom is about forgetting."

                                                              Can I use it in my novel, please? I'd like to put it in a monologue, where my MC is considering her life-baggage and the way her past is dragging her journey.

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                                                            • My historical novel has freedom of agency as one of its main themes though that's never explicitly stated. For me, all fiction, whatever the form, deals with questions of freedom in one way or another.

                                                              I think personal agency is a definition of freedom, as others have said, but other people's agency is part of my freedom too. If I'm at risk of catching a serious disease or having a bad accident because of my government's policies or my neighbourhood's lack of precautions, my personal agency is depleted. As long as there's risk to me I'm less free than I would be without the risk. Knowing what the risks are is also part of my freedom, so I can make decisions about what I can do, but I'm part of society so I have a responsibility there not to make things appreciably worse for others.

                                                              The interaction between freedom and responsibility feels even more complex than thinking about freedom, and in terms of writing fiction is more interesting. I agree with Vincent that personal freedom can include forgetting. But, again on a societal level, forgetting can lead to amnesia about how serious things can become or why they became serious in the first place. And that in turn can diminish individual agency.

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                                                              • I'm glad to be helpful, DM. 

                                                                I agree about the lack of balance but I wonder if any society achieves it. I'm thinking of how a society which emphasises family responsibility can also be oppressive. 

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                                                                • But is such a society objectively oppressive, or only subjectively so, from the perspective of those of us who are moderated by a sense that individuality is paramount?

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                                                                  • I can imagine situations where it would be objectively oppressive, or at any rate limiting to personal development. If you're supposed to marry but don't want to, for example, or if you have a disability and only the family to help your progress. Needless to say, families can have limited knowledge or limited opportunities for you to find a role. They can be anxious and restrictive, however much they love you. A social system which focuses some care or opportunities outside the family can be better informed and more productive - with better chances for education, work and social life. 

                                                                    And for older people with only adult children to help them, I can imagine people who would rather be in a well-run care home or supportive non-family community where there are more things to do and friends to make. Of course this kind of thing runs the risk of promoting institutions which aren't adequate to people's needs and self development but as a general principle I don't believe a system weighted towards a lot of family involvement or responsibility is necessarily a good system. And, alas, the struggling figure of the child carer or the young adult, often female, deprived of personal opportunities because they need to look after an older adult isn't limited to our immediate society.

                                                                    But, as you say below Rick, having no family or community doesn't work well either. And societal institutions without family involvement can lead, as we know, to awful abuse. 

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                                                                  • Good point. What may seem like oppression to some, may be freedom to others. And since no man is an island, we are all connected by our humanity and we do need others around us, either family or community. Being a part of those may be oppressive to some and may be freedom to others, no?

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                                                                    • Absolutely, to the first part of that statement.

                                                                      As to the question, I can only answer circuitously - having no family, and not feeling I belong to any community, I know those factors impinge upon my potential to exercise supposed freedoms.

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                                                                      • You belong to this community me thinks.

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                                                                        • Participate, yes. Belong… not so much.

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                                                                        • Personal freedom is something I wish I had more of.

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                                                                          • very interesting thread. Are you writing book group fiction? What our US writers at Friday night live last night call upmarket commerical fiction? Thanks for asking this D.M. Costa. I think it's an eternally relevant philosophical question.

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                                                                            • What comes to mind for me: autonomy, self-actualisation, authenticity, satisfaction, power. To have personal freedom is to have a power that isn't available to all.

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