What is Freedom

For me Freedom is to let me exercise my natural instincts and intuition. Let me express myself in my own words.

The day I was forcefully admitted in the Hospital I lost my freedom — Amrik Khabra

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The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

Absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government

The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

“Free thought, expression and action without fear or favour is freedom. … “Freedom to me means the ability to run my life by my terms, be able to express myself the way I think is appropriate, and see that my children too have the ability to do the above without any fears.”

Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is “free” if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state. … A person has the freedom to do things that will not, in theory or in practice, be prevented by other forces.


Wendy Hui Kyong Chun explains the differences in terms of their relation to institutions:

Liberty is linked to human subjectivity; freedom is not. The Declaration of Independence, for example, describes men as having liberty and the nation as being free. Free will—the quality of being free from the control of fate or necessity—may first have been attributed to human will, but Newtonian physics attributes freedom—degrees of freedom, free bodies—to objects.[7]

Freedom differs from liberty as control differs from discipline. Liberty, like discipline, is linked to institutions and political parties, whether liberal or libertarian; freedom is not. Although freedom can work for or against institutions, it is not bound to them—it travels through unofficial networks. To have liberty is to be liberated from something; to be free is to be self-determining, autonomous. Freedom can or cannot exist within a state of liberty: one can be liberated yet unfree, or free yet enslaved (Orlando Patterson has argued in Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture that freedom arose from the yearnings of slaves).[7]

Freedom of Assembly: sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom of association, is the individual right to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests. The right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, a political freedom and a civil liberty. This freedom can be limited by laws that protect public safety.

Freedom of the Press:  prohibits the government from interfering with the printing and distribution of information or opinions. It can be limited by libel and copyright laws, and it doesn’t include the act of news gathering.

Freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition. This freedom doesn’t extend to expression that defames, causes panic, creates fighting words, incites people to crime, creates sedition, or is obscene.

Freedom of speech is the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference. The right doesn’t extend to hate speech, advertising, child pornography, and a few other instances.  

Freedom of religion is the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. This right extends to any religious belief, but not in the practice of all religious activities (for example, ones that involve breaking other laws).

“Free thought, expression and action without fear or favour is freedom. Our great nation, with its cultural, philosophical and democratic heritage, enables us to do just this. To the women, I urge: let us empower ourselves with education and economic independence towards a holistic life in the realisation of our dreams.”

Mallika Srinivasan, Chairman & Managing Director, TAFE

“To me, freedom is synonymous with opportunity. The opportunity to say what’s on our mind, to make mistakes, to dream, the opportunity to translate our dreams to reality. Freedom isn’t something we wait for somebody to give us; we earn it and then defend it passionately.”

Ambareesh Murty, Co-Founder & CEO, Pepperfry

“Freedom to me means the ability to run my life by my terms, be able to express myself the way I think is appropriate, and see that my children too have the ability to do the above without any fears.”

Meena Ganesh, CEO & MD, Portea Medical

“Freedom to me means living in an India free from corruption and black money; a society where I am free to speak my mind without fear of oppression and harassment and a country where all fellow citizens get access to food, clean water, education and


K Vaitheeswaran, e-commerce pioneer, author, Co-Founder, AGAIN Drinks

“Independence for me is about being self-reliant and having the resources to lead a life of dignity. Bandhan Bank has empowered women in India by making them financially independent, thereby contributing to nation-building.”

Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, MD & CEO, Bandhan Bank Ltd

“Independence is both a freedom and responsibility. It is freedom to choose what we want to do and concurrently responsibility to act in the larger interest of society and the nation. It is being self-reliant. It is being Atmanirbhar.”

Dilip Oommen, CEO, ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel

“Freedom means self-determination. It is what enables humanity to achieve its unlimited potential, without being beset by forced diktats or imagined constraints. Freedom is not just what makes dreams come true, it makes dreaming possible. And it obliges every free person to free another.”

Abhyuday Jindal, MD, Jindal Stainless

“As an entrepreneur, freedom to me means the liberty to follow my passion, to innovate, disrupt and create a business which creates value for all stakeholders. Today, being ‘Atmanirbhar’ is the ultimate definition of freedom. I have always tried to create a self-reliant business which contributes to an ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.”

Tulsi Tanti, Chairman & Managing Director, Suzlon Group

“Freedom is the strength to follow our own path. Economic, financial and technological strength to give our people a good life. Moral strength and a national character that can be admired by the world. We have done a lot, and we have a lot to do.”

Vipul Tuli, Managing Director, Sembcorp Energy India Ltd

How much freedom do we have to direct our lives? Our understanding of freedom can give us insight into what motivates us so we can direct and move our lives toward what we desire. There are three types of freedom. The first kind of freedom is “freedom from,” a freedom from the constraints of society. Second, is “freedom to,” a freedom to do what we want to do. Thirdly, there is “freedom to be,” a freedom, not just to do what we want, but a freedom to be who we were meant to be.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the eighteenth century French philosopher, observed that “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” These chains are oppressive societal rules that restrict what we can physically do. But they are also mental chains, chains that restrict what we believe we can do. These are the chains of social conditioning, the values society projects onto us. We feel we have no power to move ourselves in the direction we want to go in our lives. Rather, we feel we’re moved by society, moved by whatever society deems valuable.

We may want to climb, but if society tells us “it’s crazy and dangerous,” we don’t. We’re moved away from climbing by reacting to a conditioned societal value. If we remain unconscious we’ll only gain freedom if society removes the rules, or if someone removes our social conditioning. That never happens. The removal comes from an internal shift within us. We achieve “freedom from” when we wake up and realize we are more valuable than society’s values or our conditioning.

The second freedom, “freedom to,” emerges after we’ve achieved “freedom from” society’s values and begin creating our own. If we value climbing, then we go climbing regardless of society’s crazy and dangerous labels. We’re moved, not by society, but by our values. This is a big step forward, but it tends to manifest itself through our ego. We are moved toward what we experience as easy, comfortable and pleasurable, and moved away from what we experience as hard, stressful and painful. In other words, we’re motivated toward pleasure and away from pain. This manifests itself unconsciously as striving for end results, which are realized after the stressful climbing experience.

The third freedom, “freedom to be,” emerges when we develop more consciousness. We need to move beyond an egoistic approach to life, and how we’re motivated. We need to be the mover of our own life, moved by the universe. Being moved by the universe is surrendering to our own unique purpose for being here. If we can tap into that, then we live an authentic life, moved by a force greater than ourselves.

A big part of accomplishing this level of freedom has to do with accepting and allowing. We accept our current state and allow whatever is happening, whether pain or pleasure, stress or comfort, hard or easy. Accepting and allowing don’t focus on end results; rather they are processes. Therefore, a shift to this third freedom requires a shift from end results to processes.

Krishnamurti, the philosopher from India, once expressed his ultimate insight as: I don’t mind what happens. If a pleasurable, comfortable, easy experience comes into our lives, we accept and allow it. If a painful, stressful, hard experience comes into our lives, we accept and allow it. There is no resistance to what is. Resistance distracts our attention from the situation, with an emphasis of seeking comfort. This process of accepting and allowing provides many situations for developing awareness and self knowledge. We relax into the stress so we can be attentive and learn from it. We begin to find the truth of our being, who we are, and our purpose. This truth can then set us free.

“Freedom to be” is a freedom where the chains of society are cast off, the veil of the ego is removed, and our authentic being can reveal itself. Once we reach this kind of freedom, our motivation becomes truly intrinsic. Energy can then flow unimpeded from the universe, through us and into our experience. Intrinsic motivation is powerful because it engages us in pleasure and pain equally. We do stressful climbing because there’s no where else we’d rather be. If we love climbing, then we know that to live the life we want, to have the freedom to be who we authentically are, we must climb. Reaching this level of freedom is no small feat, especially living in a society with plenty of rules and conditioned values. When we reach this level of freedom we live in society, but we’re not moved unconsciously by it. We’re part of the world, but not of it.

Defining Freedom

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

― George Orwell, 1984

We read about freedom, dream about freedom, celebrate the idea of freedom, advocate and hope for freedom, but what do we mean by “freedom”?

“Freedom” means many things to many people. Freedom can mean having the opportunity to vote for particular ideas or for people who best represent our views. Freedom can refer to the concept of freedom of speech: the ability to freely voice personal opinions or perspectives. Others may understand freedom in a financial context, where people seek to free themselves of financial debt, outstanding credit and burdensome loans.

But what does true freedom look like? Does it look like a voter’s ballot or someone walking out of prison? Is it seen in being able to buy anything a person wants or in owing anything to anyone?

Freedom is defined by Merriam Webster as the quality or state of being free, such as:

Freedom is more complicated than being able to do whatever we want. Taken too far, that approach would lead to dangerous anarchy—every person for themselves! Certainly freedom can mean the right to do, think, believe, speak, worship, gather, or act as one pleases, but only until your choices start to infringe on another person’s freedoms.

Consider each of our freedoms as fitting into one of two categories: “freedoms of” and “freedoms from.” This point was made by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address delivered on January 6, 1941:

“We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Delivers the State of the Union in 1941

In the same speech, Roosevelt said:

“There is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

These are the simple, basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.”

In other words, if the nation loses its liberties, freedoms and opportunities, the nation shall be no more.

Securing “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” almost always includes collective, organized action. That kind of activity is often carried out most effectively and efficiently (although, admittedly, not perfectly) by a governing body of some sort. If we want to live in a society where freedoms are protected and where the opportunity to exercise freedom is assured, we have to rely on some form of governance.

Section Objective:

Students will define what “freedom” means to them and express an appreciation for and understanding of some of the freedoms and rights allotted to United States citizens.

Discussion Questions: