Why is liberty important? Have you ever asked yourself this? It is right there in the Declaration of Independence; we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. I believe the importance of this right is more than just the ability to do what we want simply because we want to do it. Of course, that is part of it, but I believe that there is a deeper purpose to this particular right. It is something integral to being human.
I have been writing a series of blog posts on having a more productive and, hopefully, satisfying New Year. As noted in the first post of this series, Four Steps to a Better New Year, we begin by establishing our strategic objectives. This step is not only critically important to the process, but it is also key to our humanity which is why liberty is an unalienable right. Let me explain.
Jean-Paul Satre noted that for humans existence precedes essence. Inanimate things, objects, are created for a purpose. Watchmakers make watches to tell time. Carpenters make chairs to have a place to sit. Their purpose (essence) precedes their creation (existence). Objects have no say in the purpose for which they were made. They are a means to an end.
People are significantly different from objects. They are not a means to an end. People have aspirations, fears, likes, and dislikes. They also have agency meaning the ability to make decisions and act towards a goal. A father may want his son to become a doctor, but the son may wish to become a poet. A mother may want her daughter to fit some traditional role, but the daughter may wish to strike out in some bold new direction, to follow the path less traveled. In each of these cases, the parent may wish one thing for their child, but the choice is the child’s. The son and daughter are the only ones who can answer what ultimately provides them fulfillment. They are the only ones that can define their path to self-actualization.
We are the only ones that can define ourselves. No outside force can tell us who we are. No parent. No spouse. Certainly no church or state. Given that I am the only one that can answer these questions for me, nothing outside of me should be allowed to restrain me from living the life I find to be fulfilling. Therefore, if I want to live my life free of these restraints I should also accept that others have this same right. That we all have a right to lead the life we see fit, i.e. liberty.
Note here that there is a difference between liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If they were the same Jefferson would have been redundant. Happiness is an emotion that is fleeting, what once made us happy can easily become an irritant. Ask anyone who has been divorced. Liberty, however, transcends the hunt for a transitory emotional state. Liberty enables us to define ourselves, to live a life that is the embodiment of this definition. This is why liberty is so utterly crucial to our humanity and is the basis for my plan to have a more productive and satisfying year.
Key to my plan of leading a more productive life is to define on an annual basis what I have described as strategic objectives. They are the milestones on our journey towards self-actualization. As I asked in my original post, envision the proverbial deathbed scene, you are at the end of your days looking back on your life. What is it that you see in the days between now and then which will allow you to close your eyes knowing that you lived a life worth the living? That is your life’s purpose. The annual strategic objectives are the steps you need to take to achieve this purpose.
Let’s take the example of being an author. You find fulfillment in creating literature. Therefore, you may decide that in the upcoming year you need to complete the first draft of a manuscript. In subsequent years you may decide what to do with that manuscript, but the first step in becoming an author is to actually write something. This is your strategic objective for the year, your first step to becoming an author.
As I noted above, these strategic objectives are milestones on our journey to self-actualization. We are in a certain place in our lives today. As we consider our life’s objective, we see where we would like to be, our destination. By following the strategy, I have laid out in these posts, you will be able to travel this course, achieving self-actualization. And, liberty provides the freedom to walk that path.