Preface: Most of this posting originally appeared in May of 2008. This is a shorter edit which came to mind in honor of Memorial Day. When I remember the lives of those who lived before us, I often think about what they had lived for: What values-based heritage did they give us?
In search of the ultimate Freedom
I have a one-word goal that I may never attain, not completely, yet I take comfort in knowing it has grown up with me. It has been somehow associated with my goal setting as far back as I can remember. At this point in my life, I am quite positive I have written this word in my journals hundreds of times.
The goal is Freedom.
FREEDOM. Something we take for granted far too much. Think of all the ways you are unshackled and free to make your choices, and it becomes clear that most of us know no other way to live. Within this virtue, we set our hearts free.
— Twelve Aloha Virtues
I cannot recall when or why freedom first became such an obsession for me, however I am quite sure that it would have been a rather small word at the time. When I was younger, I could not possibly have known how the quest for freedom would manifest itself in my life. I could not possibly have known that my quest for freedom wouldn’t even begin in any meaningful way, until I had logged a significant amount of years in a search for it first, a search for how I would ultimately define it.
Looking back, it was surely a case of ignorance being bliss. I’ve romanticized freedom, and I have been in awe of its possibilities. I have never known oppression, and I have never had my most basic freedoms taken away from me; I have always been a citizen of a “free country.” I’ve never been in jail, in quarantine, or even in detention of any kind (airport wandering due to flight delays doesn’t count.) When I compare my good fortune with the circumstances of many in the rest of the world, the freedoms I have searched for seem so petty; freedom from inhibition, freedom from another’s agenda, and freedom from old habits. The biggie of the lot has usually had something to do with financial independence, and freedom from that vicious circle wherein the more you make, the more you spend and owe, not having the freedom from want.
Today, I still search for what freedom, ultimate freedom, will mean for me. I am fully aware that within my freedom quest, the constant throughout the years has been my aching for a complete freedom from responsibility, seemingly impossible when KULEANA may be one of the strongest value drivers I have: How can someone possibly break free from a value which has shaped their very identity?
You can, I tell myself, if you ‘trade up’ and replace it with something better. After all, when I coach managers, I tell them they can choose their values all the time, and those are not empty words; I believe them.
HA‘AHA‘A for instance. Humility can get you to think quite differently.
Amy Palko stopped me in my tracks once, with a quote she shared in response to my shout-out for more wisdom on humility. Amy offered up this quote by William Temple, once the Archbishop of Canterbury:
“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”
Well, that certainly is not a freedom I have understood that well yet! ALOHA, in fact, has taught me to do the exact opposite, and to think about my source and spirit quite a bit, for to think about them is to better trust in them.
When you become aware of others, and care for them, KULEANA has arrived to stay.
In my life’s beginnings, freedom simply meant the freedom which is complete and blissful self-indulgence, something we all have as infants, not then realizing how good we have it. We lose this freedom quickly, eagerly trading it for a growing consciousness of the other people in our lives, and completely unaware that we will soon miss this freedom terribly. When you are young, you feel like your life is run by other people, notably your family, your teachers and neighbors, and even the preacher you listen to every Sunday who you are quite sure wouldn’t even recognize you if away from the pew you sat in week after week as part of his congregation. Soon, a desire to be free from adults (and free from my younger siblings) was a freedom I eventually succumbed to redefining as freedom of choice, ruefully accepting that didn’t necessarily mean of my choice.
When I was fifteen I got my first part-time job to help my parents with our mounting bills, and I got my earliest lessons in financial freedom from my dad. It was chiefly a lesson of restriction and contingency. It made perfect sense to me then, that starter episodes of money management went like this: Only half of my paycheck (and none of my tips) went into my bank account, withdrawals thereafter forbidden until I graduated from college, and the rest went to that of the family. KULEANA, and my personal sense of responsibility had already moved in: Now it would really get comfortable, settle in and never move out again.
Decades later, 2003 to be precise, I had what I considered to be a huge, life-changing financial freedom milestone; freedom from an employer, and from the concept that you work for a paycheck until you can ‘afford’ the luxury of working on your own dreams and not someone else’s. Becoming self-employed meant way more to me than the sensibility of working for profit (versus paycheck) and working with intellectual property that was yours free and clear; self-employment meant that I could start to claim the value of HO‘OHANA with full authenticity. HO‘OHANA had been a value I articulated for myself since my study of Hawai‘i’s values began, but I knew I wasn’t close to personally achieving it yet.
So is HO‘OHANA an ultimate freedom?
It can be, I think. But like so many other things, once you attain one goal, you start looking for another… and so, I’m still within this search for what my newest ultimate freedom will be. What I have come to realize however, is something quite wonderful: My search has segued from exasperating and exhausting, to intoxicating and exhilarating. Freedom has aligned itself with Hō‘imi, looking for better and best. Freedom has become a goal I’m perfectly okay with redefining over and over again.
By most accounts, anyone else would look at my life now and hold me up as a great example of someone who has achieved all the freedoms she could possibly hope for. To want for more freedom seems spoiled and whiny — and I even think so; I’d be the first to agree with that! But this is not an exercise in being a “should-er.” Nor is it angelic or noble; freedom-marching is about self-actualization, and using every single faculty you have to use as a way of saying MAHALO, thank you for the largesse of this wonder called my life. I may not fully deserve the gift, but I will do all I can to live in a way that’s a constant effort of becoming worthy of it.
Oh dear. Reading back over this it seems I have turned my back and said “No, not yet” to William Temple… I suppose “freedom from thinking about yourself at all” is just not a freedom I’m ready to tackle.
What about you?
What is the freedom you pursue these days? Can you tell us about it? That will truly help me be less self-absorbed about this… I could graduate to what William Temple describes one day; it will surely be a worthy pursuit if I manage to do so in harmony with my beliefs about ALOHA and HA‘AHA‘A.
Bowing to the quote of another scholar, we find that Frederick L. Collins seems to agree:
Always remember there are two types of people in this world.
Those who come into a room and say, “Well, here I am!”
And those who come in and say, “Ah, there you are!”
— Frederick L. Collins
From Managing with Aloha (Chapter 12 preamble):
Ha‘aha‘a. Have humility.
Ha‘aha‘a teaches us to groom our own character with humility in respect for others. There is nothing noble in being superior to someone else; true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.
Ha‘aha‘a helps us understand that no individual can satisfy every need. All in the ‘Ohana are needed. All are to be respected and supported for the talent and uniqueness they offer.
Be humble, be modest, and open your thoughts. This is Ha‘aha‘a.