Freedom and Responsibility
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Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom is not defined as coming and going as you please. True freedom is making independent choices -- and achieving meaningful goals in life.

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Passover is the freedom holiday. Of our myriad drives and desires, yearnings and inclinations, few are as passionate and compelling as the drive for freedom. Freedom is a state of mind. Even more, it is a state of being so essential to human existence that without it the fabric of our lives is bereft of quality, color, and texture.

Children instinctively chase a freedom that is as frightening as it is exciting. Youth defies authority at every turn to pursue the helter skelter winds of freedom. They don't even know what they will do once they have it -- but they know they must have their freedom!

Adults too, still yearning and longing, bolt the confines of career and family. All in the name of freedom.

Thinkers from every discipline ponder and probe the meaning of freedom. Leaders call upon its power to inspire, and masses rise up to fight and die for it. And finally, America, the ennobled bearer of a torch held high to the huddled masses, serves as a humble beacon for all mankind. "The land of the free and the home of the brave..."

WHAT IS FREEDOM?

Freedom is the capacity to express in one's life those values and ideals which stem from the essence of the human soul.

The Talmud says, "Precious is the human being who was created in the image of God. And an even greater sign of this preciousness is that man was informed that he was created in God's image."

That all human beings are created in the image of God does not mean there is a bit of Aphrodite and Adonis in all of us. Rather, it means that we all have free will -- the ability to make meaningful and substantive choices which have a direct impact on our lives. It is these choices which determine the ultimate moral and spiritual quality of every human being's existence.

If you ever did something wrong -- and later regretted it -- then you believe you have free choice. If you ever felt that a criminal deserved to be punished -- despite the socioeconomic factors he was subjected to -- then you believe in free will. If you believe that Raoul Wallenberg was a noble and righteous human being, then it's because you believe he made a choice where so many others failed. And if you ever yell at your kids for leaving their room a mess, then you most definitely believe in free choice!

What you do not believe is that people are bound by the fatalistic chains of familial circumstance, socioeconomic condition, genes, or Divine predestination. Thus, you are not prisoner to an attitude of indifference, resignation, and melancholy. Instead you are animated by an abundantly optimistic outlook which sees himself and others as shapers, creators and captains of great ships of potential.

You believe -- as Judaism asserts -- that people are people and not psychological robots. That the existence of free will automatically creates human responsibility. And that the most precious gift a person can receive is the freedom to make his own choices, and to be responsible for his own actions.

CHOICE MANAGEMENT

Today it seems that business and the hyper-speed of technological advances are the metaphor for life. While there is something unsettling about seeing myself as a corporation, my mind as software, and my children as long-term investments, the fact is that the sages of the Talmud also viewed the workings of the business world as a useful paradigm for personal growth and character development.

The following model is designed to help identify the values central to your life -- and then define a set of goals based on those values. This model is structured around a four-step process of introspection, projection, and planning. It is straightforward, easy to use, and based on the Jewish discipline of cheshbon hanefesh -- "personal choice management." Ultimately everyone has to devise a customized approach which works best for them. This format is not set in stone. Rather the goal is to provide a useful point of reference from which you can go on to develop your own personalized system.

STEP 1

Make a list of five values or ideals which express the way you want to live your life. Here's a partial list of values and ideals:

Accepting Energetic Humorous Modest
Responsible Active Empowering Harmony
Making a difference Self-aware Appreciative Flexible
Honest Mature Self-motivated Assertive
Friendly Helpful Objective Sensitive
Balanced Fulfilled Idealistic Open-minded
Sincere Communicative Forgiving Integrity
Organized Truth-seeking Compassionate Gentle
Industrious Patient Understanding Consistent
Giving Independent Tranquil Warm
Contributing Grateful Initiative Peaceful
Daring Growth-oriented Joyful Persevere
Decisive Go-getter Kind Encouraging
Learner Happy Loving Positive influence
Efficient Respectful Diligent Resilient
Positive attitude Humanitarian Listener Humble

STEP 2

List five spheres of life which you are most involved in, and/or in which you would like to qualitatively enhance your experience. Here's a partial list of life spheres:

Business Spouse
Relatives Judaism
Children Education
Friends Career
Community Synagogue
Self Strangers
Health Spirituality
God Colleagues
Personal growth

STEP 3

Match a value/ideal to each of the five life spheres. This should be a value which you want to be ever-present in that sphere of your life.

Then, write a one-sentence statement that captures how your chosen value would be ideally expressed over the next 20 years. This now becomes your goal for that sphere of life.

STEP 4

List two or three concrete objectives which, if met, you believe will result in the achievement of the goal stated in Step 3.

Example #1

Sphere of life: Marriage
Value/Ideal: Love
Goal: Relationship characterized by a continual deepening of our love.
Objectives:
  1. Spend one hour of private time together twice a week.
  2. Keep a list of "things I love" about my husband/wife next to my bed and add to it once a week.
  3. Say "thank you" once a day as a routine activity.

Example #2

Sphere of life: Business.
Value/Ideal: Honesty.
Goal: My reputation should be, "His word is as good as gold."
Objectives:
  1. Incorporate the following statement into my vocabulary. "If I make a commitment, I stand by it, so let me think about what we just said and I'll get back to you in an hour."
  2. After describing a product or service to a customer or client, I will ask myself, "If I were my client, would I feel satisfied with this purchase?"

Example #3

Sphere of life: Judaism
Value/Ideal: Growth-oriented
Goal: To posses the type of Jewish knowledge that will enable me to give my children a good feeling about being Jewish.
Objectives:
  1. Read four Jewish books a year.
  2. Compile a list of my questions about Judaism and ask different rabbis for answers.

WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH

When one begins to see life as an ongoing process of making choices and accepting responsibility, then there is no escaping the reality that life is always tough. That's just the way it is. Embracing this fact is the first step in overcoming the hurdle of avoiding choices because of the pain involved.

The second step is to realize that it's actually a pleasure to be tough. We all know that those accomplishments which have most enriched our lives were possible only because of the effort involved, the discomfort endured, and the difficult decisions which had to be made. In Judaism, this is called L'fum tzara agra -- according to the effort is the reward.

The reason mountain climbers aren't lowered to the summit by a helicopter is because the reward -- the satisfaction, pleasure, growth, sense of meaning, and thrill -- are all a direct result of a challenging climb. What's more, the climb itself is the pleasure. Being forced to abandon an imminent assault on the summit by a sudden snowstorm will never engender regret in the heart of one who tries to scale Everest. Because the reward is the effort.

Talmudic tradition says that only 20 percent of the Jewish people left Egypt. The other 80 percent died and were buried during the plague of darkness. Why did they die? Because they weren't prepared to make the choice of freedom. When push came to shove, they preferred the familiar routine of slavery to the unknown challenges of the desert.

Life is about choosing. Choosing is difficult. And life is a pleasure. This Passover, make a commitment to the pleasure of tough choices, and whatever you do -- don't get left behind.

from the "Passover Survival Kit"

Published: April 2, 2003


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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Tanya, April 16, 2006 12:00 AM

This aritcle couldn´t have been read at a better time than at this point in my life. Reading this confirms my conclusion about life, "choosing is difficult" and when the going gets tough, the tough get going! I am a widow and decision-making gets tougher each day for me, but thanks to your articles and especially this one, it has motivated me to keep on going. Thank you Aish.com

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