Freedom is a double edged sword. Freedom requires you to assume responsibiliy for your actions – and leaves you with no one to blame for unpleasant consequences and failure. This is being republished as where it was originally published back in 2012, Gyancentral.com, is now defunct.
Most of us are not very good with our dealings with freedom. We are taught to obey as kids, and when freedom hits us from nowhere purely by circumstance, we do not know what to do with it. Rarely do we seek out freedom, though we almost always wish for it, from the safe distance of our bondage.
When India was a part of the British Empire, a major argument against independence of India forwarded by imperialists was that Indians will not be able to take care of their own interests. Law and order will be destroyed, and public administration system will fail. In words of Winston Churchill, “Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air and water would be taxed.”
A lot of Indians didn’t agree with this. For them, political, financial and freedom was way more valuable than the ‘service’ of maintaining law and order and public administration provided by the British rulers. They thought that we do not need the British to lead in our public and political sphere – our own leaders can do that job very well. The task of building our own political, constitutional, financial and public administration systems was not easy. There were many conflicts between states, different sects and communities of people. The country sometimes faced failure of law and order and public administration in small scale for limited periods of time.
We have however paid that price happily in exchange of the the right to govern ourselves. We can celebrate our success, and we have no outsiders to blame for failures and disasters any more. If there is a famine or a communal riot, we can not blame the British rulers – as Indians always did in the pre-independence era.
If you are a student going to a college away from home for the first time – your situation is quite comparable. Most kids grow up in India under strict regulations and instructions from parents and other family members. Schools also maintain orthodox discipline – usually implemented with an iron fist. You study because your parents insist, you maintain discipline because you have no other option. In school, you follow hundreds of rules, some of them just ritualistic and rather meaningless, others necessary to maintain an acceptable order of things.
Now imagine living in another city, away from your parents – in a hostel, or in a rented accomodation with other students – which is very common for law students going to a good law school or college. Suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of a lot of freedom. There’s no one to watch over you and direct your every action. You can sleep late if you want to. You can wake up late. You can skip a meal if you want to. You don’t study if you don’t want to – no one will punish you for that unlike the times when you did not do your school homework. You can hang out with your friends all the time you want. If you bunk classes no one is there to stop. If you drink all night and miss classes the next day no one is probably going to yell at you.
However, you have the consequences at the end that you must face. If you didn’t eat and sleep well for a long time, your health will break down. Bad health will have a domino effect on everything else you do, it will slow down all your efforts to do well in life. If you don’t sleep enough, you’ll not have the energy required to do well in life. If you while away too much time on unproductive but pleasant activities, you’ll have no time to develop your knowledge and skills, or to build up yourself as a person. If you miss too many classes you may not be allowed to sit for the exams, and even if you are allowed, your performance may be ordinary. If you do not find the discipline in yourself to strive to be good in life, you will be mediocre and live a very ordinary life. Your potentials will never be fulfilled. These are the consequences.On the other hand, you have the rewards of doing good things.
The bad and good consequences together govern your actions once you grow up. There would be a point in your life, if it has not already come, when you transition from being a responsibility of other people to being responsible for yourself. At this point, your actions will not be governed by someone else – there would be no one else to immediately punish you for bad deeds and give immediate reward for good deeds. In fact no one will even tell you what is good and what exactly is bad – you must use your own judgment to decide what is good or bad for you. Your bad deeds or good work will be rewarded or punished – but by long term consequences. You would be alone in facing those consequences. You will have no one to blame for your failures – and that’s how youn start to take responsibility for your actions. That, my friend, is the first step of learning to be successful.
This is what we know as freedom – where you are free to decide if the evening will be better spent in the library or at a sheesha bar – and the consequences of the choice are yours too. The library over the bar is not an obvious choice, and sometimes it will be a better choice to go to the bar. What kind of people spend all their evenings in the library anyway? That does not sound like a person I would want to be. However, you must decide what is good for you and be prepared to face the consequences.
The freedom brings many dilemmas with it. Following someone elses orders is easier. Determining the path of your life, finding your true goals, discovering your own character, finding your confidence, developing valuable skills and seeking out knowledge from your experiences, training your will power and cultivating a strong desire to succeed is not as simple as following someone elses orders without going into the merits of the orders.
However, freedom gives you the opportunity to do all these. A person merely following someone elses order can never discover himself, nor can he build himself or herself up as a person no matter how wonderful achievements have been come across by following the orders.
Indian students usually encounter this freedom and responsibility in college for the first time. For most students, it turns out to be a major disaster. Health breakdowns are very common. Many students experience a cultural shock – especially the ones who have come from small towns and villages. Life seems to be unfair and values that have been held dear so far start to crumble. The freedom that was once craved for suddenly looks like a trap. Many students take to alcoholism and heavy smoking. Some others resist these for years. In my five years in college, I have seen numerous brilliant people ruining their lives due to drug adiction or alcoholism. Some of them later took responsibiliy for themselves, fought back and succeeded to build up their lives again, but many more didn’t.
The freedom is not just a friend, it is an enemy too. The double edged swords can hurt if you do not protect yourself from it. Then is it really worth it? Why not stay close to your parents, let them dictate what to do in life, and stay away from temptations? Many people do that too.
However, I would not ever do that. I embraced the freedom, and I recognized that it is for me to shape my life. I knew there will be trials and hardships, and wrong decisions on my part, but I knew this is the only way to grow. It took me a few years to find my feet in law school – but the struggle was worth it. The struggle helped me to be what I wanted to be – I was able to be th decider of my fate, I learned to be the captain of my ship.
I detest someone else dictating how I should live my life, and how I should go about my business. I have learnt to listen to and accept advice and criticism – but I decide how I want to live, and what kind of person I want to be. I learnt to take all important decisions of my life on my own, and I learned to accept the consequences. I decide if I would work in a job, or if I should start my own business – not my parents. I decided if I want to specialize in international law or business laws – maybe my teachers adviced me on that, but the decision had to be mine. I am free to decide, it is for me to suffer or enjoythe consequences, and I would not blame anyone else for the outcome.
That is a part of growing up. The earlier you take responsibility for yourself and embrace the freedom in its entirety, more significant is the headstart you get in the journey to become a complete person.
There are very few things of significance we can achieve in life without this kind of freedom. Most truly wonderful outcomes are only reserved for the free people, and kept away from those who have not been able to abandone slavery. The relationship between academic success and academic freedom is one sparkling example.
In institutions where the syllabus is tightly defined, academic goals are laid down in great details, and all students are expected to learn the same answers to every question rarely produce academic work of any significance. Every student develop into a brick in the wall – their inputs as well as output is identical. This does little to take forward the province of human knowledge.
Great academic institutions recognize this, and provides academic freedom to the students and scholars. The students as well as researchers get to choose what they want to work on, they even decide the methodology. They get some flexibility to choose the subjects they want to study. Diversity of thought and actions is promoted. Discussions do not consist of precise questions and objective answers, but hypothesis, creative thinking, original theories, unique, even if faulted and challenged propositions. Questions are asked and answered by anyone. This creates the space where a body of new knowledge is developed. New methods of learning are found and practised.
Of course, this makes it much more difficult for the student. Wasn’t it great in school when you had exact text books to study from, and you knew the exact wordings of the ideal answer to a question? Scoring high marks was a matter of writing down the exact answer that was taught to everyone.
In the best colleges, this is not the order of things. It is acknowledged that there is no exact answer to questions that are worth working on. There can be many different brilliant answers. There can be mutiple ways to deal with the same problem. Sometimes, the answer to a question is not a statement, and just even more questions – high academia recognizes that. You as a student, have to learn to deal with it.
Suddenly, memorizing information is not enough – you need skills – of reasoning, writing, speaking, presenting information. Suddenly – you decide what is a good answer and what is bad – and the teacher may agree or disagree with you.
You must take responsibility, and you get to keep the credit or criticisms too – of your contribution. You have academic freedom, and it is upto you to make something out of it. You have to be original, you have to successfully convey your idea – and then stand up to be judged by your academic peers on very subjective scales.
That, too, is a part of growing up.