Freedom is a a buzz word that is used, and often abused. For instance, the defense of freedom is often used to justify attempts at military conquest. I have even heard it said that the sound of fighter jets from nearby airbases practicing overhead is the “sound of freedom.” Unfortunately, the word “freedom” is all too often used in efforts to divide people. It’s used to win arguments, and to win elections.
Freedom is a concept that is dearly loved and worshipped. We cherish it, at least our version of it. So what exactly is this concept of freedom that we go on and on about, sometimes hating and killing each other in its name? Certainly, freedom is an emotionally-charged word with many different meanings, meanings which change for most of us over the course of a lifetime.
Craig Hassed is an Australian physician and a leading proponent of mindfulness. He is an associate professor at Monash University, where he is a senior lecturer in the Department of General Practice. Besides mindfulness-based stress reduction, he also teaches and researches integrative medicine, mind-body medicine in medical practice, and ethics.
Hassed’s new book The Freedom Trap: Reclaiming Liberty and Wellbeing looks at how we define freedom, and examines the concept from many different angles — political, legal, philosophical, psychological, social, ethical, neurological, and scientific.
Throughout the book, Hassed examines freedom in a way that helps readers think through the concept while addressing stress, fear, anxiety, and oppression by illness and other problems of the human condition. To better illustrate his points, he employs the metaphor of a carnivorous pitcher plant, which entices an insect with sweet tasting nectar, drawing the bug further down until he cannot escape and is ultimately digested by the plant. This comparison aims to make the point that some of our concepts of freedom function in a very similar way.
Hassed is progressive and pro-freedom, but argues that as a society we have been misinformed and misguided about our ideas of what freedom means. Through evidence and stories, sayings and phrases, questions for reflection and practices, Hassed aims to help readers apply mindfulness to their understanding of freedom.
“Learn, perhaps through meditation, to stand back from and observe your thoughts without taking them as facts,” he writes.
Hassed also draws from wisdom traditions both religious and philosophical. I thought of Confucius as I read. Confucius looked to the Western Zhou for ways to find harmony and for people to behave ethically. Hassed, too, looks to the West, primarily to the classical Greek philosophers like Socrates, and to western religions.
Hassed examines freedom in terms of speech, privacy, child rearing, education, abortion, paternalism, and many other issues, and encourages readers to examine their own sense of personal responsibility and self discipline, because, he argues, there really is no freedom without responsibility and self-discipline.
I enjoyed this book, and appreciated that it made me examine and critique my own personal beliefs about freedom.
“What is the effect of not speaking those things that you feel should be spoken?…Practice speech that uplifts people and abstain from speech, even in the mind, that denigrates people,” Hassed writes toward the final pages of the book.
I will try to keep Hassed’s words of wisdom in mind.
The Freedom Trap: Reclaiming Liberty and Wellbeing
Softcover, 272 pages