Dear style & substance,

As June/Pride Month comes to a close and July 4th, Independence Day, is celebrated, my thoughts have centered on the idea of freedom – what it means and what each of us can do with it. Our country, really our world, seems very divided to me now – do you have ideas about how we can freely express ourselves without imposing on another’s freedom and deepening divides?

The United States is built upon freedom; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In our beginning, we claimed that these truths were self-evident and the founders went as far to say that all men are created equal. From your question, it is clear that individually and generationally we continue to wrestle with what freedom and acceptance look like. As Booker T. Washington stated, “wherever in any country the whole people feel that the happiness of all is dependent upon the happiness of the weakest, there freedom exists.”

Freedom can be defined as the human right to act, speak, think, and express our thoughts; but true freedom cannot exist without thoughtful consequence of our actions and words. With freedom comes responsibility. How do we care for our truest selves while respecting the rights and freedoms of others?

Oppression flourishes when voices are silenced. One of the first things that is done to diminish and marginalize others is to take away their voice. Through formal agreements with victims, to censored press, shutting down a person’s ability to speak strips them of freedom. Peaceful listening, not combative listening or bully-like silencing, let’s freedom flourish. When we sincerely care about another person’s experiences, regardless of difference, we begin a dialogue of deeper understanding. This may result in disagreement, but it is a difference of opinion and approach.

People who have been harassed and abused are often offered money to keep silent. Or victims are maligned and threatened so they fear speaking up. The voice is the tool of freedom. The #MeToo Movement has created changes in laws that allow for victims who have been silenced by systemic abuse to speak. These brave individuals have all paved the way for other’s to be heard so all can in practice have a life of liberty and happiness.

Personally exploring this value of freedom is a place to start. If we consider our free-est moments, what are they? Most likely included are fresh air, human connection, love, movement and affirmation. Combine those experiences with the Golden Rule, a universal spiritual and cultural reference, simply put: treat others as you would like to be treated. Why not offer to others what we value most, particularly if we have more than enough? If we want to be heard, then we listen intently to others, if we want to move, we give space for others to do so, we say “good job” or “I’m proud of you” with generosity. If we are in the majority, extend inclusion to someone in the minority. Look, listen, feel what is going on and commit to balancing the situation.

If we think of freedom as an infinite resource, we begin with the idea of abundance rather than scarcity. There is enough - freedom for all improves everyone’s circumstances; it does not diminish or lessen when we offer it to others.

With freedom, people are happier, more satisfied, more creative, more productive, more confident and perhaps are more responsible.

So, what are the necessities to ensure freedom? Civility, structure and sacrifice are essential. Lack of rules does not mean more freedom, it means more chaos. Community mindedness means thinking outside of ourselves, to what would be best for all.

‘For to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’ ~Nelson Mandela

True freedom means making room for other’s beliefs, no matter how different those might be from our own.

Sally Meisenheimer and Michele Armani are the owners of style & substance, which provides life coaching and creative solutions. Meisenheimer and Armani are certified life coaches, with many years of experience in health education, workforce development and teaching. Combined, they have been married more than 60 years and raised seven children. Email questions and comments to yourstyleandsubstance@gmail.com.

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