How do you define freedom? Is it different than liberty? How do justice, equality, and agency fit into the picture?
Today here in the USA we honor the legacy of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. with a bank holiday, meaning schools, government offices, and the post office are all closed. For an every-Monday writer like me, it’s a good time to publicly ponder what his work was all about, how it changed our world, and what it means moving forward. Let’s not forget how central the theme of love was to his work moving the cause of civil rights forward.
Janis Joplin made the words of Kris Kristofferson even more famous when she sang “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” in the ode to Bobby McGee. It’s not easy to truly grok what these words mean unless you’ve experienced the free-floating abandonment of hitting rock bottom and cutting all ties with friends, family, and society in general.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who somehow manage to live ‘above the law.’ Our system supposedly precludes such behavior but a quick glance at any daily newspaper or website proves otherwise. The disparity between the way the rule-of-law is administered between the wealthy and privileged and the poor and marginalized is obviously out-of-whack.
Most of us ordinary mortals live somewhere in between the two extremes. Today is not a Hallmark holiday, it’s a day of reflection and service. It’s a day to recognize the sacrifice made by those who put everything on the line and a day to ask ourselves what we can do to make our little corners of the world a bit better.
Perhaps you are a philanthropist with the means to write a huge check that will underwrite a non-profit dedicated to one thorny social issue or another. Or maybe today is the day you take gloves and a grocery sack out on your daily walk and tidy up your neighborhood by picking up some litter.
The fact is, you’re in a position to enact change for the better on a global scale with each and every small act of kindness, compassion, and service that you do. Because at the end of the day, you have ‘agency’. Just what do I mean by that?
I’m talking about your own free will. Your ability to choose this versus that and make decisions for yourself. Your core beliefs that bubble to the surface of your mind when you dance. All the way down at the very baseline of what we would call freedom is your ability to choose the words that come out of your mouth.
Your words create your world. Having a thought is one thing, it is still unmanifested energy that can evaporate in the back of your mind if you choose not to give voice to it. If you speak it aloud, even only to yourself, it begins to reverberate and gain momentum. If it makes it as far as another person’s ears, it’s too late to take it back.
It’s like when people say “never put anything online today that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing on the front page of The New York Times in a few years.” When a thought escapes your mind to run loose in the wild you have no idea how far it will go or how it might change along the way.
I’m pretty sure that don Miguel Ruiz articulated The Four Agreements long after Martin Luther King Jr. was gone. But one can well imagine that he would have given credence to their merit. After all, Ruiz describes the book as “a practical guide to personal freedom.”
The idea that you should be impeccable with your word. That you should have thick enough skin to not take anything personally. That you can cultivate the wisdom and self-restraint required to not make assumptions. And that you can count on yourself to always do your best.
These four agreements are the foundation for living a kind and compassionate life. When you look at personal freedom through the lens of The Four Agreements you see that responsibility for one’s own actions is central to the entire idea.
If you’re a dancer who has spent much time moving your body in the company of others, you understand the importance of things like respect for other people’s well-being and personal space. You get it that being granted the privilege to move and share space with others is predicated on your willingness to behave accordingly and honor the ground rules.
All too often we see freedom being conflated with entitlement. If someone claims that rules that mandate wearing a mask in public is somehow impinging upon their freedom, then they don’t understand that freedom is conditional on agreements that respect the common good.
I often wonder what long lost leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. (or George Carlin, Richard Pryor, or Frank Zappa for that matter) would have to say about some of the trends we see today in society. It’s pretty clear that while much progress has been made, some of the tendencies in human nature are persistent and that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Fortunately for you and me and the conscious dancers of the world, intentional movement has a way of raising consciousness in those who are willing to learn the lessons of embodiment. Embracing and immersing yourself in the wide world of wonderful music from around the globe has a way of fostering deeper cross-cultural compassion and understanding.
May we keep the faith in our better nature and honor the legacy of Dr. King by keeping our spirits high, spreading love and respect everywhere we go, and supporting the cause of justice and equality in our actions.
Much love and all the best till next Monday!
PS: Huge thanks to everyone who pitched in on my daughter’s GoFundMe to help out with Ozzie the cat’s recovery. She’s raised over half of her goal so far, and Ozzie is doing much better!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine