Land of the Free?

July 3, 2015

I’m thinking about the meaning of freedom on this Independence Day.

Patriotism in the Skagit Valley

Patriotism in the Skagit Valley

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.”  — Abraham Lincoln

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  — Nelson Mandela

“. . .  my liberty depends on you being free, too.”  — Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Clementa Pinckney”


“But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden


Thoreau was 28 when he began his experiment in simple living at Walden Pond.  But prior to that, he admits that he spent days dreaming about buying a home:  “At a certain season of our life we are accustomed to consider every spot as the possible site of a house. . . . In imagination I have bought all the farms in succession.”  He went so far as to make offers on some properties, but the deals fell through.  He said, “I never got my fingers burned by actual possession.”

It is in this context that Thoreau wrote this week’s quote about remaining free and uncommitted.  He is talking about the burdens of possessions, and not, I think, staying free of commitments to people or relationships or work.

“It is preoccupation with possession, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”
— Bertrand Russell

Home ownership seduces with its promise of security and settling in the world, but a mortgage does shackle one to a steady job.  You trade hours of your time for the income to maintain the encumbrance of a house or farm.

“Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you need to live.”
— Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

“We create ourselves by our choices.”
— Kierkegaard

In my experience,  commitment to my spouse, daughter, family, friends, and work provides the largest measure of meaning and satisfaction in my life.  I hold those individuals luckiest whose daily work is so intrinsically interesting and rewarding that the money is a secondary consideration.  And possessions, such as a house you own, are simply a by-product of a life with more fulfilling priorities.