Monday, July 4, 2016

Personal Liberty and Freedom Are Different Things

It is July Fourth weekend here in the U.S. I have discussed many times how my recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous has been predicated on my ability to see a little of myself in virtually everyone’s story. It is this sense of identity and connectedness that allows me to know I’m accepted in these rooms. Also, it is critically necessary for me to be in this frame of mind for me to hear my Higher Power speak to me through their vocal chords. It is some form of spiritual unity or oneness that is “just there.” I can’t explain it in much more depth because it is a reality that I sense and know – yet is beyond rational or intellectual verbiage.
Much the same can be said for my participation in A Course In Miracles (ACIM). Here, however, I am hearing words from the Text, the Workbook for Students or from the Manual for Teachers that discusses the reality of what I’ve experienced in my 29 years of recovery in AA. If I change my mind about how I perceive things or, over time, my outlook changes, then my universe changes. I cannot explain it, but it happens. I cannot trick it into happening, because my thoughts of perceiving differently must be genuine. Nonetheless, it happens. I know it. I have experienced it. ACIM states this spiritual change of perception (or Atonement) is the work of the Holy Spirit.
However, there is a subtle temptation to manipulate this reality. Understanding how AA works and being able to conjure up empathy when listening to someone in a meeting might provide a short-term sense of relief – but it will not provide a lasting recovery. In ACIM, to study enough to acquire a cerebral understanding of the principle tenets of the book will not provide an experiential “knowing” of the reality of changed perception. In short, just “intellectually knowing” these programs doesn’t seem to do very much. It’s all about working the programs. In AA it’s working the steps with a sponsor; in ACIM it’s working the daily lessons in the Workbook for Students.
Without my individual work these programs don’t do very much. As mentioned, they may provide some fleeting relief but not long-term peace and serenity.
This same distinction may be applicable to some of the political rancor infecting our country today. There is a very vital movement to re-establish a sense of personal liberty. The clarion calls of this movement are captured in catch-phrases such as: Return to the Constitution; Get the government off my back; Re-establish a smaller government – let private business do the job; Get rid of business regulations; Don’t take my guns away; Get our government back to reflecting our core (usually fundamentalist Christian) values; The tree of liberty is watered with blood; Reducing taxes will solve most of our problems; and so forth.
I have talked with folks espousing this rhetoric. They are very vocal, fearful, angry, and energized, to say the least. But quite often they are confusing a sense of personal liberty with the constitutional idea of democratic freedom. Personal liberty, for them, is a kind of benevolent anarchy. They will be responsible for themselves, thank you very much, and will offer help to those who need it. However, if the “needy” are racially, culturally, religiously, or sexually different – then perhaps no assistance will be forthcoming. They reserve the right to help who they want when they want. That is their right. That is what their personal liberty means. There is not much in the way of an apparent recognition of social oneness.
Personal liberty was important as our country expanded westward and individuals had to rely on themselves and a few neighbors, perhaps, to deal with calamity, outlaws, disease, natural disasters, etc. They were self-reliant because they had to be. But we no longer live in that world – nor can we return to it – the world of pony express and stagecoaches to take and deliver goods and mail, no medical services to speak of, no public safety, no structured educational process.
The constitutional idea of democratic freedom is based on my commitment to voluntarily relinquish some of my personal freedom in this or that area of my life in order to preserve my oneness in the social structure as a whole. I relinquish my personal freedom as I vote and abide by the will of the majority and then work to make that will work. The bumper sticker wisdom – Freedom Isn’t Free – is true and not just because of the military. It isn’t free because I work to give up my rights in many areas in order for my society to thrive. If it thrives, I can thrive. If it doesn’t, I can’t.
I am not an island unto myself. I am just a small thread in the fabric of society. My work is to dedicate myself to improve the whole social structure. Much of that work requires me to subjugate myself to the health of the whole. My freedom comes, not when I become my own little island, but when my society grows and thrives. I work to make that happen, just as I work to make AA and ACIM a reality.

#1 Jul 2016
Copyright 2016

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