The Paradox of Freedom

I’ve been personally wrestling with the proper conceptualization of freedom for some time now (don’t worry…I have friends and a job too), ever since becoming uncomfortably aware that I enjoy a much greater degree of freedom (freedom from, as I’ll explain) than many of my friends around the world. Three recent experiences have spurred this present public-journal entry: attending World Youth Day in Poland on pilgrimage, reading Pope John Paul II’s inspired book, Love and Responsibility, and spending these last two weekends listening-in on meaningful conversations about “Markets & Morality” and “Economics & the Pursuit of Happiness” at respective conferences. May you enjoy the haphazard thoughts to follow 🙂


There is a short tale that I was once told, regarding a certain historic encounter:

Years ago, when Pope John Paul II landed in the United States for his visit, President Reagan greeted him with a hearty, “Welcome to the land of the free!” The Pope then smiled and spoke with his usual wise and glimmering eyes, “Free, yes. But free for what?”

For what? Herein lies the paradox of this self-evident right which we rightly hold so dear, precious almost as life itself. Here, I think, is why we from the land of the free are surprised when we meet those who do not have as much explicit freedom in their lives and yet mysteriously still radiate dignity, strength, and even happiness. Here is why, although we currently enjoy greater freedom than ever before in the history of humanity, we still suffer at the hands of things like the paradox of choice.

Our understanding of freedom–as a broader nation but primarily in our intimate lives–is not whole.

The protection of freedom that we are blessed by cannot be the telos, end in and of itself, since it only can protect our pursuit of happiness, not guarantee it. This is necessary on a state level, but I think that we forgot the other half of the equation. We commit to protect one anothers’ freedom through our governments, so that we can then come home and freely choose to sacrifice that very freedom in our work, school, and play. In other words, I don’t think we experience the fullness of freedom until we use our freedom from unjust restriction as freedom for an end that is true, good, and beautiful. Paradoxically, echoing the secret of Mother Teresa, I’ve found the greatest happiness and freedom in giving it up to fulfill my responsibilities as a daughter, sister, and friend. Given our abundance of choices, we must be even more careful that our daily movements are taking us closer to the person we want to become and not further.

We must remember that freedom from is always completed by freedom for.

Freedom From

In the framework of the state, we encounter freedom as freedom from. From the outset, I want to be clear that I am in no way disparaging the freedom that we enjoy in the United States. In fact, I want to echo the words in an excellent article by our very own Nebraskan Senator Sasse, as he clearly articulates what freedom looks like in the political and economic lens:

The American Founders saw that denying people their freedom is fundamentally wrong because it doesn’t comport with the dignity of people who are created in the image of God. People have been endowed with certain inalienable rights. God gives us those rights; government does not.

Government is merely a tool. It provides a framework for ordered liberty so that free people can live fully flowering lives.

Freedom For

In the sacred space of the home and heart, freedom is perfected as the freedom for. What makes freedom so immensely precious is our power to relinquish our personal freedom in the service of a greater good. We sense this instinctively, for example, when we are moved to deep admiration for those who give up their comfortable lives to fight for our country, or even as we see married couples sacrifice their individual independence for the good of their family. I have found, that through a passage in Love and Responsibility, St. John Paul the Great clarifies this mysterious and paradoxical relationship:

Freedom exists for the sake of love. If freedom is not used, is not

taken advantage of by love, it becomes a negative thing and

gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment.

Love commits freedom and imbues it with that to which

the will is naturally attracted — goodness. (p. 135)

Which is Greater?

Who’s to say? I certainly have not seen enough depth and breadth of life to even pretend a wise response, but I can relay the wisdom of a man who was challenged to live out his philosophy, rather than comfortably preach it in a lecture hall his entire life. That man is Viktor Frankl, and the repository of his insight is found in his book  Man’s Search for Meaning. Through his experience in the concentration camps, Frankl made the courageous challenge to his fellow prisoners and now to his future generations of readers (a challenge which he lived up to):

We who lived, in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Though our freedom from may be taken away by others, our freedom for can never be completely extinguished. Freedom for, since it is not only the crown of freedom from but in fact can exist independently, is the greater, the fuller, the more perfecting. And to bring it full circle, lest we forgot it all too quickly (I know I do), the wisdom of St. John Paul II the Great:

 Man longs for love more than for freedom — freedom is the

means and love the end. (p. 136)

Love is the end? Just think about this one. In both our frivolous and fundamental pursuits of happiness, when are you the truly happiest? When you focus on doing what you want every day, or when you focus on loving others and letting them love you?* For me, the answer is self-evident.

 

*Even apart from religious understanding– everything that the social sciences can measure points to this fact as well. I’d highly suggest a follow-up video about the longest study on human happiness.

Advertisements

Sehnsucht in the Library of Congress

Deep calleth unto deep. –Psalm 42:7

It is no accident that lofty thoughts blossom forth in beautiful places.

But the really interesting thing is that man’s monuments and God’s landscapes do not push inspiration from the outside-in; rather, they engender a planted seed. Something already in us resounds and responds in harmony. An easy example is the clarity that emerges from our muddled minds when we find ourselves in the presence of a thundering waterfall, opulent temple, star-speckled sky, or keeping quiet vigil as the baby sleeps on our chest. In forgetting ourselves through contemplation, we feel as if we have returned to ourselves. There is a mystery in that.

It is for this reason that I’ve found myself studying in the Library of Congress lately (…also did I mention that they have a fantastic gift shop?). The magnificent trappings of the exterior and interior are undeniably conducive to good work. While reading (this and listening to this) in the company of new-friend and very-new-friend, I took a pause to look up and noticed eight named figures, History, Commerce, Religion, Science, Law, Poetry, Philosophy, and Art, encircling the dome.

Above each was an inscription:


IMG_2064History: One God, one law, one element, and one far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves. —Tennyson

Commerce: We taste the prices of Arabia, yet never feel the scorching sun which brings them forth. —Anon

Religion: What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? —Micah 6:8

Science: The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. –Psalm 19:1

Law: Of law there can be no less acknowledged that her voice is the harmony of the world. —Hooker

Poetry: Hither, as to their fountain, other stars repairing, in their golden urns draw light. —Milton

Philosophy: The inquiry, the knowledge, and belief of truth is the sovereign good of human nature. –Bacon

Art: As one lamp lights another, not grows less, so nobleness enkindleth nobleness. —Lowell


How marvelous that a cluster of words, written down by a human being long ago, still calls out to us with power. No person enters the channels of time without leaving an impact, but it’s clear that a select few have been gifted with the most eloquent (or frankly boisterous) voices around our large family dinner table. Though the intellectual in me is sorely tempted to add my cluttered commentary to each phrase, I instead want to focus on the small, silent whisper threaded throughout each of them: There is something greater to come.

So the takeaway from this little rumination? Don’t ever fool yourself into thinking that this is all there is. There’s a reason you feel more at home in beautiful places than anywhere else.

You were made for something more.

Walker & Sasse: Fathers for the Founding Fathers

If you are interested in models for the kind of political leadership that our Founding Fathers had in mind, look to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse. These two continue to earn my deep respect as they have done great things for the states I call home and now are speaking up to hold our nation to the high standard for which we were founded.

And needless to say, their movement is coming just in time.

Both Walker and Sasse defend the free market and traditional values that are the bedrock of our great American society, though my particular admiration is sparked by how they do so. If you have ever cared to know what’s at stake when endless debates about politics seem to pollute the public square, I highly suggest this succinct speech by Senator Sasse about family. 

The rhetoric and actions of Governor Walker are courageous and straightforward, demonstrated as he stood firm about making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. The reality that such virtues demand respect was evidenced as he emerged victorious from the recall election by a greater margin than his original win. Secondly, he has the mind of a principled business leader as he balanced the budget, by lowering taxes, reducing regulation, and cut funding to Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin. And last, if this quote from his speech as he dropped out of the GOP race doesn’t embody the ideal of a servant leader, I’m not sure what does: 

“The Bible is full of stories about people called to be leaders… I believe I am being called to lead to help clear the field in this race.” 

My esteem of Senator Sasse arises because he has the well-rounded attributes of a great historian and communicator. Knowledge of history is indispensable for understanding why our founding principles are worthy of conservation in the first place (and I’m tempted to believe that there is a correlation between the quality of our public school history classes and the slipping sense of civic duty.) His scholarliness is evident in his speeches through easy references to Tocqueville’s notion of voluntary association, Burke’s conservative principles, Madison’s view on limited government, and even Aristotle on friendship, though his real wisdom is the way he presents these timeless truths with compassion and humor.

An argument may be valid, but it must also be understood to be great.

And last, exhibiting the difference between meaningful quotes and soundbites, Sasse has articulated the meaning of America in the best way I’ve yet heard:

“Limited government is not an end in itself. Limited government is a way to constrain the things that could displace those institutions and those transmission opportunities that define what is fully meaningful in human life.”

Ronald Reagan on Heroes

Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver 5 minutes longer.
― Ronald Reagan

I’d classify this quote as sheer genius for two reasons. (Well actually three, if you count the fact that I’m a huge fan of Ronald Reagan to begin with). The foremost is that it recognizes that we all have the capacity for heroism. That deep-down ardor for kleos aphthiton, enduring glory, was designed as part of our humanity. I think that our prevailing fear of failure, or even worse, dull complacency, causes us to set our sights much too low, much too often. There is a reason why it is good for us to surround ourselves with extraordinary people, why athletes often prepare for a game by envisioning themselves performing their best, or why we know to encourage young kids to read and draw. Running parallel to its pleasure, the power of the imagination is that it can transform abstract hero-worship in our mind into an understanding in our hearts that we are capable and have the obligation to act heroically. The second point is worthy of daily consideration: heroes are made in the small moments. The five minutes. If you do not adhere faithfully to your principles in the little things, how can you reasonably expect yourself to be faithful in the bigger, more public matters?

Inspired by the above quotation, I’d like to conclude this weekly passage with a tidy essay I recently penned on the two political leads whom I admire the most. Not only do both Walker and Sasse exhibit heroism, but they also inspire heroic action in others.


 

Two political leaders that I hold in high esteem are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Nebraskan Senator Ben Sasse. Both men fight for the free market and family values that are the bedrock of our great American society, though my particular admiration is sparked by how they do so. Walker is courageous and straightforward, and those virtues were demonstrated as he stood firm about making Wisconsin a right-to-work state and emerging victorious from the recall election by a greater margin than his original win. Second, he has the mind of a principled business leader, as he lowered taxes, reduced regulation, and cut funding to Planned Parenthood. My esteem of Senator Sasse arises because he has the well-rounded attributes of a great historian and communicator. Knowledge of history is necessary for understanding why our founding principles are worthy of conservation, and his scholarliness is evident in his speeches through his easy references to Tocqueville’s notion of voluntary association, Burke’s conservative principles, Madison’s view on limited government, and even Aristotle on friendship. His real wisdom is the way he presents these timeless truths with compassion and humor. An argument may be valid, but it must also be understood to be great. Lastly, exhibiting the difference between meaningful quotes and sound-bytes, Sasse once articulated the meaning of America in the best way I’ve heard:

Limited government is not an end in itself. Limited government is a way to constrain the things that could displace those institutions and those transmission opportunities that define what is fully meaningful in human life.

2014: A Few of My Favorite Things

Buenos días! I’m currently running on Dominican time, which means that although the working world has properly celebrated and moved on with the New Year, I am taking my sweet time to savor this new beginning. The idea hit me while I was eating toast and drinking juice this morning that it might be nice to compile an orderly summary of impactful, memorable pieces I encountered in 2014. So thus, here we are:

A Few of My Favorite Books:

1. Man’s Search For Meaning By: Viktor Frankl

There is no language strong enough to describe my love for this text. The reader faces a new portion of wisdom with each page, and consequently, the desire to share it with the world. If you do anything at all in the new year, READ THIS LITTLE BOOK.

2. Guns, Germs, and Steel By: Jared Diamond

While this is admittedly a formidable chunk of literature, it contains many answers to historical questions and a solidly thought-out thesis, making it well worth the time investment.

3. Walden By: Henry David Thoreau

Grab this classic piece of American literature to revel in next to a crackling fire and a cup of hot cocoa. Thoreau has some very healthy thoughts; we would do well to spend some time ruminating upon his perspective.

4. How to Win Friends and Influence People By: Dale Carnegie

This is basically an instruction manual for people. Even my 17-yr old bother – oh I mean brother – read it and liked it. Carnegie knew what it’s all about and successfully conveys that wisdom in his book.

5. Defending the Free Market By: Rev. Robert Sirico

I first encountered Fr. Sirico when my Macroeconomics class was lured from our warm beds earlier this year to catch his 8am speech. I was shocked to find myself 110% captivated by his words and even distraught when it was over. Immediately purchasing and reading his book, I’ve been a fan ever since. He succinctly professes common-sense truths that the reader will recognize are familiar to himself.

*Honorable Mention: The Beautiful and the Damned By: F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Few of My Favorite Recipes:

1. Whole Wheat Greek Yogurt Pancakes : Drizzle with honey and cinnamon and you get pure BLISS. And this is coming from a girl who typically doesn’t like pancakes.

2. Pumpkin and Chickpea Hot Pot : Stumbled upon this beauty while researching vegetarian recipes for my Fall service trip. It’s a perfect blend of homey yet exotic flavors.

3. Parker House Rolls Recipe : The credit goes to my little sister for first discovering this one– hands down the best rolls our Thanksgiving table ever saw, and that’s saying a lot.

4. Skinny Spinach and Artichoke Dip : My go-to when I’m expecting to entertain company. While that level of planning usually doesn’t happen in the collegiate lifestyle, it’s still a delicious back-pocket kind of deal.

5. Fairy Bread : There’s just something about it. 🙂

*Honorable Mention: Pandan Rice Cake. Watch the entirety of this video and you will get the daily crying-laughing bout you deserve. Also, will someone please actually make this and get back to me so I can try some.

A Few of My Favorite Articles:

1. 5 Lessons Running Has Taught Me

2014 was the year that I took up running at least 5x a week, and it has been the best decision I’ve made to date.

2. Looking For Home In All The Wrong Places, How Traveling Made The World My Home

“Traveling may not seem like it, but the feeling of pure bliss that I get when I see a place with my own eyes that I have admired for years from pictures and books, is the most consistent feeling I have ever known.”

3. Bakeries Around the World You Should Visit Before You Die

This. Only because I joke (but not really) that my backup plan in life is to move to Assisi, Italy and open a small bakery. Be prepared to massively crave the cutest carbs…

4. Writers and Their Books: Inside Famous Authors’ Personal Libraries

I just can’t wait to have a personal library of my own someday…

5. A Day in the Life of an Economic Officer

Absolutely exhilarating. It feels more than good to be working toward a goal, and this blog has been helpful beyond belief.

*Honorable Mention: Marriage Isn’t For You

A Few of My Favorite Places:

1. Milwaukee Public Market & Flavors

When an old friend makes an appearance in either Milwaukee or Omaha, these are the primary feeding locations that pop into my mind and rightfully so. Not only does each offer top-notch meals, snacks, or drinks, but the atmospheres are simply spot-on. Grab a few friends and do your tongue and tummy a favor.

2. Oriental Theater & Film Streams

My go-to movie locations. The Oriental is positively majestic and guarantees a breathtaking movie experience, while Film Streams is convenient, clean, and excellent at what they do.

3. St. John’s Church at Creighton

Two words: Bell tower.

4. Milwaukee Art Museum & Joslyn Art Museum

The kind of places you can wander through all day without even realizing it, and still leave wanting more.

5. Maxim’s & Fox and Hounds & WheatFields

Is there ANYTHING more heavenly than a properly done brunch?

*Honorable Mention: Fresh Fresh cafe in Cabarete

A Few of My Favorite Quotes:

“Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

-William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

“If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say.”

– Ann Patchett

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love
with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
-Fr. Arrupe

“I’m going to make everything around me beautiful — that will be my life.”

-Elsie de Wolfe

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

-Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest