Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom Is A State Of Mind

Independence Day overseas is always an adventure, because you know its supposed to be a holiday, but nobody else is taking the day off. While my family and friends back in the States are enjoying the sunny weather and a three day weekend, Cuencanos are enjoying the fifth straight hour of pouring rain and another workday. Yee-haw!

The question does sometimes come up as to whether I worry about my freedom living overseas. The short answer is no, not really. America isn't the only place you can live free and happy ... and to me, attaching freedom to a place diminishes the concept.

Freedom isn't a concept that can be fenced by borders. It's not even really a concept that can be fenced by facts. Was I more free in America, where an organized government efficiently collected taxes, monitored citizen activities, and regulated the snot out of being a small business owner? Or am I more free in Cuenca, where a highly inefficient government doesn't provide much more than basic services and the police can be readily bribed? (In a recent lesson on crime vocabulary, I mentioned a friend paying the police $10 to get out of a ticket. My students told me he overpaid - it should have been $5. "You foreigners run up the price of everything," harrumphed one of them, implying "my people" are ruining their freedom to drive like maniacs.)

Moving from the cops back to government, was I more free in America or when I was living in China? I didn't speak the language well and had no knowledge of the local laws. I know I got tons of exceptions from locals because they knew I didn't get it and it wasn't worth it to them to make an issue out of it ... but in America, there are no exceptions for me. If I speed, fail to register my car properly, don't follow my community covenant for recycling, or a hundred other small things, I'm in trouble.

So what is my freedom, really? Were my forefathers fighting for the right to watch reality TV on high-speed Internet connections in McMansions? I like to think they were fighting for the right to live on their own terms - the right to choose their futures, govern their destinies, and take their lives where the path led. It's not a place - it's a concept, a state of mind. Rainy skies, no fireworks, and miles from home, that's what I celebrate as my Independence Day.


  1. I had all you can eat BBQ ribs on the first of July in a pre-fourth celebration. Turns out real bbq tastes a lot like mental freedom...

    But seriously freedom is a lot more fun living under someone else's roof.

    Hope you still had fun on the fourth!

  2. Real BBQ ... Lucky you!

    Freedom under someone else's roof ... yes, I like that idea!