The Freedom to be Me


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


So, the highest goal to which man can aspire, he infers, is love. “Happiness ensues as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of surrender to a person other than oneself.” Thus we see how suffering, otherwise incomprehensible, becomes meaningful.

All this, we must conclude, is only possible when I forthrightly and courageously face up to freedom’s challenges. When I strive towards being master of myself; when I embrace, with its demands and all it entails, the freedom to be me.

Freedom and Development

We have not explored Amartya Sen’s pragmatic conclusions in depth. They span volumes and it is not necessary here. But they all emanate from this freedom core. For example, he says that even though it is now clear that democracies serve better in preventing catastrophes like famines and in promoting economic growth, “political liberty and civil freedoms are directly important on their own, and do not have to be justified indirectly in terms of their effects on the economy.”  Similarly, the market mechanism is primarily a demand of and derives from man’s inherent freedom of exchange and transaction (even though this right – like any other – may be regulated if it leads to some social loss or exploitation) and is not the preferred option simply for its comparatively higher economic potential or imperatives. Unemployment should not be viewed merely as a deficiency of income that can be made up for through welfare schemes. It is devastatingly “a source of far-reaching debilitating effects on individual freedom, initiative, and skills”, leading to effects like the social exclusion of some groups and loss of self-reliance, self-confidence and psychological and physical health.

“Development,” concludes Sen, “has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy. Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social persons, exercising our own volitions and interacting with – and influencing – the world in which we live.”

The foray we’ve made into the depths of the freedom faculty isn’t unimportant or extraneous to development and its myriad indices. There cannot be development without a proper conception of the nature of the human person - the subject of development itself. This proper understanding and conceptualization enables the continuous striving on our part, the agents and instigators of development, to ensure that the direction in which society is travelling is at every moment in consonance with the true dignity of the human being.

I would therefore venture to adjust Prof. Sen’s encapsulation a bit, sharpening it somewhat. Development goes beyond enabling people to live the kind of lives they value, it also means providing people with the tools, environment, and so on, that would enable them enhance themselves and the society around them in a consistently positive and dignified manner.

I tried but couldn’t resist slotting in another poem here, before closing. It is Maya Angelou’s “Take Time Out”; beautiful also, in its rallying call to responsibility.

          When you see them
          on a freeway hitching rides
          wearing beads
          with packs by their sides
          you ought to ask
          What’s all the
          warring and the jarring
          and the
          killing and
          the thrilling
          all about.

          Take Time Out.

          When you see him
          with a band around his head
          and an army surplus bunk
          that makes his bed
          you’d better ask
          What’s all the
          beating and
          the cheating and
          the bleeding and
          the needing
          all about.

          Take Time Out.

          When you see her walking
          barefoot in the rain
          and you know she’s tripping
          on a one-way train
          you need to ask
          What’s all the
          lying and the
          dying and
          the running and
          the gunning
          all about.

          Take Time Out.

          Use a minute
          feel some sorrow
          for the folks
          who think tomorrow
          is a place that they
          can call up
          on the phone.
          Take a month
          and show some kindness
          for the folks
          who thought that blindness
          was an illness that
          affected eyes alone.

          If you know that youth
          is dying on the run
          and my daughter trades
          dope stories with your son
          we’d better see
          what all our
          fearing and our
          jeering and our
          crying and
          our lying
          brought about.

          Take Time Out.

I have, however, left out a whole lot of other issues, like the responsibility that goes with freedom. If I am free, and master of myself, and so master of my choices, it means I am responsible for them; I may be rewarded or punished; I would be deserving of whatever praise or blame that ensues. I have also left out, for example, what my convictions are about man’s ultimate destiny and that of society in consequence. In other words, answers to the two questions: what am I here for, and where am I going? I leave them out, on the one hand, because now might not be the time nor here the place. But I leave them out, too, because I’d much rather treat of them in the pleasure of a wide open space, surrounded by lush gardens and singing birds, and bent over, most contentedly, the unavoidable light sherry - or two.◼︎


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"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Viktor Frankl

Doctor, Neurologist, Psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor

1905 - 1997


Frankl held that people go through life because they have a sense of purpose. He observed that the prisoners in the camps who knew there was a task outside those confines, waiting for them to fulfil, were the most apt to survive; a point that has been corroborated by various studies since. And so, in attributing man’s motivation to a “will to meaning”, he differed emphatically from the two most prominent psychologists of the century: Sigmund Freud ascribed human motivation to the sex drive (the “will to pleasure”), while Alfred Adler - whose ideas Frankl once shared - put it down to assertiveness and power (the “will to power”). Happiness would be a result of the striving towards that goal or meaning of one’s life. “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out,” asserted Frankl. “Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated.”

He stressed that this endeavor is compatible with the difficulties and obstacles that emerge. “Nothing in the world, I venture to say, would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life.” He would then quote fondly from Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.”


Maya Angelou

Author, Poet, Activist

1928 - 2014