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Musings from a Millennial: Freedom Springs

By Meghan Peterson, PhD*.

As Spring comes into view, one word keeps entering my mind: freedom. What is freedom in the context of this season? Perhaps it is the freedom to enjoy the outdoors through later hours in the day, due to the sunshine’s increasingly longer stay. Or maybe it is the freedom to hear birds sing their new tunes. What of the freedom to prepare those seeds for the garden?

In all of these cases, freedom designates an ability, a capacity, a choice, a decision. One of my favorite political theorists, Thomas Hobbes, writes, “[l]iberty, or freedom, signifieth properly the absence of opposition (by opposition, I mean external impediments of motion)…”[1] While basic in substance, this definition strikes a fundamental chord: freedom constitutes the will, the space, the resolve to do what one chooses.

That said, I sense that my generation often skews the definition of freedom in one of two ways. One common way millennials distort freedom is by exercising an ability to do anything one wants. But that cannot be correct. If one’s motion impedes another’s, then that exercise of “freedom” immediately halts another’s mobility. It must be that freedom is about something higher: choosing to be in ways that do not preclude another’s mode of being and living. To bring this “something higher” down to a practical level, consider our social media world. Interactive online spaces such as Facebook or Twitter are to be commended for constituting spaces of free expression and the free exchange of ideas. At the same time, they can also become home to the worst of our cultural rot – hostility, disrespect, malice, un-truths. Surely, freedom cannot mean this. For oppression takes root in the demonization of others and lies.

Alternatively, my millennial cohorts may take freedom to mean acting in accordance with whatever our peers have deemed acceptable. We often witness this on school and college campuses: youth willing to bow to compromised definitions of freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, which reserve those guarantees for specific persons who comply with their own worldviews or opinions. The classic Orwellian “BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS” comes to mind. As a result of this approach, free speech, free expression, or free assembly are best exercised by those whom millennials identify as palatable for their sensitive spirits. This, too, cannot be freedom. For the whole point of freedom is that it be experienced by all – regardless of color, class, creed, or political persuasion.

With Spring’s arrival at our door, let us exercise our freedom, let us not become that “external impediment to motion” of another’s exercise of freedom, and let us go outside and enjoy what we have here in New England (and yes, maybe tackle some of that storm clean-up, too).

[1] Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: Chapter 21.

*Peterson is Composition Editor of Haddam News and staff writer for HaddamNow.