The Freedom to be Me


Freedom: what is it, and how does it link to happiness.


All the earth’s scientists put together, all the laboratories in the world assembled in one colossal complex, could never manufacture one human body. Wonder of wonders that the body is, it is only the beginning of the human being's phenomenal nature. Man is the only animal that can reason. He has an intellect which, amongst other things, enables him to speak coherently in a language. Trivial? Not at all. Language is all too easily taken for granted. No other animal has developed and mastered it the way we have.

So, spare a thought for my pet German Shepherd, Kiara. In comparison it has no culture: no ways of behaving and thinking. It cannot pass this on from one generation to another through learning. It cannot develop technology, or invent methods and procedures to satisfy its needs and desires. It has no ordered body of knowledge. It can't do history or linguistics, psychology or sociology. God help her, she can't even relax to an evening of Beethoven or appreciate a Rembrandt. No animal - no matter how smart - can think like one human being.

With the intellect comes the other complement: a will. The ability to deliberately focus one's energies to a specific target. Together, they result in that most sublime of gifts: freedom; an inner faculty that makes the person master of himself. He can determine what he does and how he acts. He is not ruled by his instincts. Human beings behave with the most flexibility and in the greatest variety of ways. And even though their freedom needs to be developed by their making the right choices, it cannot be obliterated by external constraints. It cannot be clobbered out of them. In the end, every single human being is unique and unrepeatable. Each human person is a different and distinct individual. A wonder and marvel in their own capacity. That is why they are the subject of the most inalienable rights.

Whenever I consider this aspect, I recall words of the poet William Ernest Henley from his poem, Invictus, and they go thus.

        Out of the night that covers me
            Black as the pit from pole to pole,
        I thank whatever Gods may be
            For my unconquerable soul.

        In the fell clutch of circumstance
            I have not winced nor cried aloud.
        Under the bludgeonings of chance
            My head is bloody but unbowed.

        Beyond this place of wrath and tears
            Looms but the horror of the shade,
        And yet the menace of the years
            Finds and shall find me unafraid.

        It matters not how strait the gate,
            How charged with punishments the scroll,
        I am the master of my fate:
            I am the captain of my soul.

I have deliberately taken this circuitous route in order to highlight, or rather, attempt to highlight - for we can never appreciate enough what we are - the extraordinary nature of the human being. Look at it this way: you are in control of the most awesome piece of equipment ever built. Every person, each one of us, is unique and irreplaceable. No matter how hard anybody tries, it is impossible, utterly impossible to find or make another you.

Yet, the more important thing is to realize that I am in control of “me” for a purpose. Every individual, at one time or another, must have posed to him or herself those inescapable profound queries: Who am I? What am I here for? Where am I going?

May I now venture upon the crux of this paper, as it were. I intend to methodically illustrate the concept of freedom by drawing upon the lives of two well-known figures. I should point out that this does not imply an approval of their lifestyles or life philosophy. Nor should it be taken to mean that I propose them as models for emulation. No. What it does mean is simply that these two persons provide, in my estimation, clear illustrations of freedom's facets. I refer to Nelson Mandela and the musician, Fela Kuti. Still, I must in fairness add that I have considerable admiration for the several positive points to be found in both personalities.


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Between the formation of that zygote and your entry into the world was quite likely about nine months. Those were the most eventful and productive nine months you would ever experience. (Actually, by eight weeks all your body parts were discernible.) During that interval your body took shape and developed much more and faster than at any other period in your existence. Indeed, more than it would during the rest of your life taken together.

The human body is usually described as the most wonderful machine ever built, a poor understatement. It has so many parts that it is a wonder in itself that all its functions are accurately executed and flawlessly interconnected. There are thousands of interdependent components and functions, making it most intricate and complex. Yet, the entire contraption ticks over very smoothly. It operates on full automatic, without your lifting a finger. Indeed, almost entirely oblivious to you. It is the perfect machine. Still, it doesn't stop at just efficiency. Like no other machine, the body is constantly rebuilding itself. Everyday about two billion of your cells wear out and are replaced. Every 15 to 30 days you have a completely new outer layer of skin.

Stay with the skin for a bit. Your skin - astoundingly - keeps your body temperature within a specific range, regardless of the temperature outside; a self-regulating thermostat. It protects the body's inner parts from external germs and disease. Its structure will allow for the expulsion of dirt through sweat, but will prevent the entry of any substance through the same pores; an automatic one-way valve.

Most of your body parts work continuously. Your cardiac muscles, for example, are "built to last". They need to. They will contract automatically and rhythmically without tiring, throughout your life. Because of them, your heart beats an average of 70 times every minute, more than 100,000 times every day, without rest. Its two pumps are in constant operation. The heart of a forty-year old person would by that time have pumped more than 23 million gallons (90 million liters) of "refined" blood; or about the capacity of three thousand 18-wheeler tanker trucks.

Your circulatory system moves the blood throughout your body via an astonishing branching network of vessels more than sixty thousand miles long. That means, placed end to end, your blood vessels would go around the earth, two and a half times. They feed all your body's cells, carry away their waste, and bear disease-fighting substances to immediately attack any dangerous incursions.

Your body’s "Intelligence Unit" is the Nervous System. It regulates and co-ordinates the activities of all the other body systems. Its senses help it detect and immediately (automatically) adjust to changes in itself and its surroundings. The nerves carry messages from one part of your body to another, at speeds of up to 90 meters per second, 190 miles per hour. Its Control Centre is the Central Nervous System (CNS), comprising of your brain and spinal cord. This CNS receives information from the senses, analyses it, decides how the body should respond, and then sends instructions that trigger the required actions, in an orderly and precise manner that is the envy of any company manager. There are more elements (called neurons) in your brain than there are human beings on earth. And despite their number, they are all linked together in precise patterns.


Introducing… humans


William Ernest Henley


1849 - 1903