In his book Becoming Who We Need To Be, author Colin Wright has a chapter about freedom versus security. The ideas we have for freedom and security run against each other and are sometimes very contradictory. One of the things that Wright described, which really stood out to me, about the conflicts between freedom and security is the difference in the definitions and the terms we attach to our ideas of freedom and security. Wright wrote, “What makes this discussion, and many discussions, all the more difficult to have is that opposing sides are often using different definitions of the words in question, and resultantly we might think we’re talking about the same thing, when in fact we’re merely speaking past each other.”
What really stood out about his idea is that it applies in almost any public debate we have. Across the United States we use a lot of different words
to say and mean the same thing. Our country has a lot of variation in what words we use depending on where we find ourselves and what the culture has grasped onto. In our political lives, we do the same thing based on our political beliefs. Someone who is in favor of expanding access to abortion services is likely to use the term fetus while someone who does not believe that anyone should ever have an abortion is more likely to say unborn child or baby. In the abortion debate, it is clear to see that both sides are using different words to stir up different emotional responses.
In other cases, our varying use of definitions in political contexts can be more subtle, nuanced, and confusing. A lot of internet sub-cultures exist and have specific ways of referring to groups of people, to the positive outcomes they want to see, or the negative things that are going on around them. In some ways using the right definition for an uncommon word is unnecessary but shows that you are part of the inside crowd and that you are on the right side (or at least understand one side) of the discussion. If you are not aware of these definitions, there is a good chance you could use a term in a way that seems reasonable to you, but that reveals that you don’t know what the inside group is talking about and that you don’t actually think they way they do about a given issue.
When we have conversations, we should work to be very clear about the definitions we use for specific terms. We should be aware of times when our definition of a word is an insider’s definition from a subgroup of the population. We might be using a definition that is only used by some Twitter group, a definition that is only used by people who have studied a topic in college, or a definition that is only used by either Republicans or Democrats. For us to be effective communicators and to make sure we don’t isolate people around us (or ourselves) we have to recognize how these definitions work and how certain words will either bring people into our discussion by signaling we are part of their tribe, or will push people away by signaling that we don’t agree with their beliefs.
It is easy to become wrapped up in the criticisms and shortcoming of technology, especially when criticizing technology also allows us to criticize younger generations and place our age cohort on a shining pedestal, but we should also consider how technology is at times neither good nor bad, but just different. Author Colin Wright provides a unique view into the use of technology for connection and communication in his book, Come Back Frayed. He writes about the freedom that technology provides him and how it allows him to live a life that previously was not possible.
“I can be whomever I want because there’s no one to regulate me, to passively or intentionally box me in, to pressure me into becoming an archetype of myself.
In real life, the line is not so clear.”
His quote comes after he explains the freedom granted to him by technology and his life style. The technology allows him to produce content from anywhere on the planet and to sell his work across the globe. It allows him to get away from typical work schedules, and allows him to have any office anywhere he has decent internet connections. His life is no longer dictated by demands that many people face like mortgages, regular job hours, or a commute. Without a family Wright is also able to explore and live without expectations from others allowing his work to take the shape that he wants wherever on the globe he lives.
On its own, the above paragraph is not very insightful. After having read much of Wrights work however, additional possibilities provided to Wright by technology begin to jump out. He describes himself as a major introvert, preferring time to himself over time with others. Before technology he probably could have managed his time on his own well, but he certainly could not have had the same experiences and freedoms. When we criticize technology for allowing people to communicate and interact without ever truly meeting and knowing each other, we are ultimately just criticizing people for not communicating the way we want them to or expect ourselves to communicate. For those who would struggle without technology, there is a real power in the communicative possibilities provided. Perhaps these individuals would have adjusted and still found success in the pre-internet communication world, but we should recognize the new opportunities it provides to interact in the world and be active and engaged human beings despite shy tendencies.
Time is a resource that does not seem to be well understood or well used in society today. We spend a lot of time at jobs we do not fully enjoy, and when we are not working and have leisure time, we are afraid of boredom and don’t know how to use time to be present in the moment. Author Colin Wright has approached this problem head on, and found some solutions. Through his writing he has been able to reconnect with the present moment and direct his time according to his own desires. In his book, Come Back Frayed, he writes about his travels to the Philippines and what control over his time means to him. After explaining that in his life, his goals have been related to finding control in as many of his decisions and actions as possible, he writes about a feature in a Forbes article. He was profiled for the way he spends his time earning relatively little money. He writes,
“The response to such a story is a confused one, particularly amongst some of my entrepreneurial friends. When you’re part of that culture, a clever person dedicated to building something of value, something you believe will make the world a better place, will solve problems which plague humanity, will elevate you to a higher status, that of ‘successful entrepreneur,’ the yardstick you’ve been provided is a monetary one.”
Wright’s criticism is in the way that many successful entrepreneurs judge success. Financial success, bank account statements, company valuations, and access to funding become the indicators of success for most people. How we judge whether someone made an impact in the world becomes entangled with financial success. What Wright continues to explain is how he has chosen to measure success in his personal life differently. Rather than searching for greater sources of revenue and income, he focuses on freedom and expanding his ability to make his own choices.
When we decide that we will no longer allow financial success to be the true measure of how successful we are, we open our lives to a new realm of possibilities. Rather than continuing to spend more time focused on work and growth for the sake of financial gain, we can begin to align our lives with the things that truly matter to us, help us be present in the moment, and allow us to have a personal impact on the world. The financial yardstick we become accustom to does not do a good job of truly measuring the type of people we are or the quality of our actions. Our culture’s decision that success is equivalent to monetary wealth may help serve us well in terms of having many exciting things, but it also pushes us toward hedonism and lifestyles that can be unhealthy physically, mentally, and socially. I do not have the solution that Wright seems to have found for replacing the monetary yardstick, but I am able to recognize that a focus beyond money and beyond possessions can help us adopt a more well rounded life. The challenge is how to align life with the things that truly matter, and to find an appropriate place for money and success.
In a letter written to James Harmon for the book, Take My Advice, writer Larry Niven writes, “The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.” Niven’s quote speaks to me about trying to find a middle ground in the world of freedom and security. He continues to explain that the constant is different for every individual and how the product of the two may vary depending on individual personalities. Some individuals strive to reach out to new people and new places, while others become more comfortable with a set routine and a guaranteed paycheck and living space.
Thinking about actions and choices in terms of freedom and security and understanding their relationship can help me find the place that I believe is right for me. I am not always as adventurous as I would like to be, but I understand that there is a certain level of security with which I am comfortable. Because my security allows me to spend my days without a constant worry, I can reach a higher level of happiness and self confidence even though I am not as adventurous as others may be. Becoming aware of the conflicting feelings that arise when I feel as though I have been in a routine for too long helps me enjoy each moment and remember that my security has has allowed me to reach the place I am. Finding a constant between freedom and security that leaves you in a confident place is a good thing, but I think there is still room for experimenting to see if more or less of either would benefit you. I would not argue for large pendulum swings, but an occasional swing for freedom or retreat towards security can be a solid learning experience to draw on as we search for our proper balance between the two.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger continues in her letter of advice to James Harmon for Harmon’s book, Take My Advice, and writes, “Life is not about personal aggrandizement, acquisition, and self-fulfillment. In other words, man cannot live by “me, me, me,” alone.” In this passage Dr. Schlessinger is writing about having a full and meaningful life, and she explains that a life focused on ones own personal existence, having lots of things, or always having fun does not translate into a meaningful life. It is difficult, but once you begin to understand that life does not have to be a competition to show how successful one can become, you start to feel more attached to the things that you do every day, and you begin to appreciate where you are each moment.
As I have entered the working world out of college, I have had a struggle with trying to identify my goals and understand what success really looks like. On the last episode of the Mindful Creator Podcast host Brett Henley talked to a guest about being confident with oneself and where you are in your journey at whatever point of your journey you find yourself. The guest brought up the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses”, and argued that a happier life is one where you give yourself permission to not want the lifestyle that is projected in movies, television shows, and advertisements. The two talked about how liberating, both mentally and economically, freeing yourself from materialistic desires can be.
I think that Dr. Schlessinger would agree with everything the two talked about on the podcast. It is important to be self aware and recognize when you are focusing only on yourself and doing things only for your own personal and materialistic gain. Understanding that you have desires for things and certain lifestyles because you have seen them projected through mass media or across your friend’s Facebook is an important step in realizing how to live a better life. Being continually focused on impressing others with your lifestyle and possessions will place an unfair amount of stress on yourself, and will alienate you from people who you could otherwise share a deep connection with. Learning to be happy with who you are, where you are on your journey, and to drop the pressures from visions of what your life should be will open you up to become a more compassionate person. Beyond that point you become a person who can share more meaningful moments with people around you.