Oh, come on. Don't click away to your next bloglines update. Seriously. I am not going on a Palin-style rampage with my own personal take on freedom. What interests me more, and maybe will you as well, are the ways that people from different countries view freedom. Live it. Hunger for it.
Take for example Germany.
I was out for a traditional round of Kaffee und Kuchen in a Hamburg cafè several years ago with a friend. "You know," she said between bites of raspberry strusel cake, "Americans are always talking about how free America is. It's silly. I was there. I don't think it's so free."
I looked into my Milchkaffee, searching for the right tone in the frothed milk. "Well, ok," I moved my head back and forth a bit. "What did you think when you were there?"
"Well, for one thing, try going topless on the beach. You'll get arrested. And for God's sake, don't go topless and drink a beer without a brown paper bag over it. You'll get thrown in the slammer for years!"
Well, not really. But I got her point.
"Americans judge freedom differently," I tried. "See, our country was founded on the principles of religious freedom, since the original settlers were fleeing persecu...." I could see her yawn. I was spouting the contents of my 8th grade history book.
" Right. You are so free. That's why you all get 2 weeks vacation a year and can get fired without notice. Americans are so busy working that they forget to think sometimes. There is no free time! How can that be freedom?"
All of that made me think. What is freedom, really? Is it freedom to create? To practice religion? To have six weeks paid vacation to contemplate your navel? To flash your boobs with a bottle of beer in your hand in broad daylight?
Ok, here's the part where I start making generalizations. Please turn away, you sensitive politically correct types.
If you ask the average middle-of-the-road-centrist European what freedom means to her, she's likely to say something about having more time to spend with family and friends, more time to pursue hobbies, freedom from worry about getting fired, freedom from worry about getting sick and not having care.
That would, I think, mean that the European definition of freedom depends heavily on a regulated system that forces companies to provide said freedom (cough). Companies won't give away free time or guarantee jobs with a contract unless they are forced. Which they are. In Europe.
Freedom dependent on regulation.
If you ask the average middle-of-the-road-centrist American what freedom means to here, she might say that it means being free to pursue the life she wants, the ability to change directions and to learn and to grow and try new things, the freedom to practice or not practice a religion of choice, even Scientology if you can believe it. Health care would play a role. But personal choice, even in the health care question, would remain a central issue.
Which might mean that the American definition depends heavily on a deregulated system that allows for free enterprise, thrives on it in fact, but does not protect the individual or guarantee vacation or benefits or any of those things that Europeans hold dear. Free time is great, but not the high definition of freedom like it is in Europe.
Freedom dependent on lack of regulation, in a system, which by definition, robs people of almost all of their free time, because of the lack of regulation.
These are completely personal observations based upon the last 16 years of living in Germany and Italy, after having spent my first 35 years in the United States. I find these sort of comparisons compelling. They reveal two vastly different mindsets, neither of which has the hold on the complete definition of the word.
There are common areas. Freedom of movement. Freedom of speech. Freedom of opinion. But there are many other areas that are very diametrically opposed. Which means, essentially, that freedom is relative. It's liquid and flowing. It's not a definite, although many who are locked into their own culture would swear that it is. It's absolute in its subjectivity. Since I am only able to talk about a small part of Europe and the United States with any degree of credibility, it interests me even more to know how cultures outside of these view freedom.
It's one of those subjects where there is no right or wrong. Just opinion.
Anyway, these are the thoughts that come to me as I scrape the dust out of window ledges with my fingernail (ouch) and lay mosaic windowsills.
What do you think about at such moments?