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Freedom and the Search for Truth

Freedom has long been an important concept in western culture-some might say a defining one. It goes back at least as far as ancient Greece, where Athens produced the first known democracy. The temple of Delphi bore the inscription, later echoed by Jesus, The Truth Shall Set You Free.
   
Rome fashioned a Republic. Germanic tribes gave voice to every man, and commitments of loyalty were freely given and upheld. England grappled with balancing the rights of monarchy with the concerns of the people.
    The German philosopher Hegel, before he associated freedom with nationalism tied to the will of God, differentiated negative freedom, which is only license to do as one pleases, from positive freedom, which fulfills itself in seeking something higher-what he referred to as Truth.
    J
ohn Locke introduced the idea of natural freedom, and how we sacrifice some of this freedom to a social contract for reasons of security. The social contract provides respect for law and ownership of property. Jean Jacques Rousseau, another Age of Enlightenment thinker, insisted that freedom can only exist for masses of people within a state of equality. Without equality, there will be those who have power over others, and those who must submit. Elements of these two philosophies shaped the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence, especially the latter, which liberally borrows from them.
    The British philosopher and parliamentarian, John Stuart Mills, distinctly and passionately warned us about the social oppression of freedom, which he called the tyranny of the majority. We often forget about this when we focus on majority rule and forget about minority rights. By minority, he meant every person who disagrees with majority positions. He told us that the only restrictions of freedom that were acceptable were those that prevented injuries toward others. He also made clear that Truth was not someone's possession, or a thing to be held. It was a process of discovery and development.
    Activist Emma Goldman eloquently declared that even liberal democracy hampers freedom by creating a hierarchy of power and opinion that leads to authoritarianism. She pointed out, quite plainly, how it fails to lead to equality for all.
    Chivalry-Now inherits the best thoughts of all these western thinkers, along with others, but is not limited to them. It carries first of all the western urge toward freedom that these philosophers built upon. When, in medieval romances, King Arthur built a Round Table to recognize the equality of his knights, people understood what this meant. When these knights went questing, they did so as thinking individuals whose freedom embraced specific virtues and challenges of personal growth. The Grail Quest drew upon spiritual elements that represented the search for Truth. Arthur's knights sometimes disregarded unjust laws or traditions. They often challenged abusive authorities. They protected those who needed protection out of respect for human dignity and basic human rights. This is the warrior tradition that we inherit and build upon, and we find some of the very best expressions of western thought illustrated in these stories. As Arthur's knights were constantly challenged for their virtue, their ideals put to the test, so are we.
    Freedom cannot be taken for granted, or it is lost. It becomes either negative freedom, or no freedom at all. It flourishes only when it is tested, confronted, challenged, inspired-and then rewards us with purpose, meaning and abundance of life.
    Freedom means questioning things. It means liberating our moral center so that we are free as complete persons, not social products, or copies of our parents, or other trappings of ego.
    Just as freedom is not an end but a process, so is the search for truth upon which it depends. One cannot be free by embracing lies, falsehood or illusions. Ignorance may be bliss, but it liberates no one. Authenticity shuts down and the automatic pilot of ego begins.
    Life is the challenge that tests our commitment to truth and virtue. Psychological dragons and wizards must be dealt with or destroyed. In helping others, we prove our worth. Brotherhood strengthens us. Thinking for ourselves individuates us. Opening our minds allows truth to be discovered and falsehood recognized for what it is. Self development and right action gives life its due.
   
The free man discovers freedom and sacrifices all his previous restraints and ego comfort to obtain it. It is the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the metaphorical Kingdom of Heaven, wherein one's true self is resurrected and given sovereignty over one's life.
   
Positive freedom places one's life in a truer perspective of participation, infused with purpose and meaning that is not imposed by others, but discovered on one's own. It concerns itself with the happiness and fulfillment of others, by striving to make equality real. It does not align itself with wrong causes. It forgives its own mistakes and imperfections, by forgiving those of others, and then seeking self improvement.

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