The flourishing of life—passionate, free, self-organized expression and relationship—is both the point of and a source of wisdom. But trying to maximize our autonomous freedom can undermine healthy aliveness. So seek to optimize liberty in whole communities and systems within life-serving constraints ordained by reality, character and society.
Related: 4 Big Empathy, 7 Checks on Extreme Inequality, 9 Civil Rights, 21 E Pluribus Unum, 34 Life-Enhancing Enoughness, 42 Partnership Culture, 59 Synergy Between Part and Whole
Going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
This pattern is about the way life can be undermined by unrestrained and too much freedom that breaks out of all barriers. It is also about how tremendous freedom exists within any given set of bounds, which is particularly important because we are finite organic beings and the earth is a finite organic resource.
The effort to have total liberty, total and absolute freedom, is unrealistic and actually damaging, not only to other people’s lives and to the lives of the living organic world we live in, but even to ourselves. Too much of anything can be damaging to our health – our psychological and physical health – and to our relationships.
So this pattern is exploring the realm of restrained liberty. We’re talking about idea of life’s flourishing, so we use phrases like passion, freedom, self-organization, expression and relationship, which are all dimensions of flourishing life. We want these things. We want to have the ability to be passionately engaged, to be free of constraints, to be self-organized, to not have anyone or anything telling us what to do, to be able to express ourselves, to be able to connect to whomever and whatever we want. That’s what quality of life is largely about. We want to have flourishing life in ourselves, with other people and our communities, and in nature. That is one of the definitions of what we want.
Also the passion that people have for things leads them to have a lot of knowledge and experience in that particular realm. In the context of working with other people, that’s a resource for gathering the bigger picture. All of our passions together, all of our life experiences together, add up to something that is bigger than any of us, and that can inform what we do, how we think, what we decide.
Our freedom is necessary to manifest and to bring that out. We don’t want to be boxed in or oppressed because that silences all that juicy diversity that can inform our inquiry into what could be wise. To have people and perspectives and factors be able to move in relationship to each other all the time provides a juicy soup which, if we attend to it and engage with it appropriately, will generate wisdom. So this is both what we want and a large part of how we are able to get it.
Once you start talking about freedom, there is this longing, this impulse and political ideology of maximizing our freedom. But that can get in the way. There’s an old saying that your freedom to swing your arms ends where my nose begins. That is one of the ways to describe the limits of freedom.
My father wrote a popular article about social power in a democracy. In it he offers stoplights as an interesting example of optimized freedom. If you don’t have a stoplight at a busy intersection, then everybody has to stop. If you don’t have a stoplight where a country road meets a major highway, then the person who’s on the country road may have to wait a long time to get enough space to get into the flow of traffic on the big highway. So the stoplight is an example of something that seeks to optimize everyone’s freedom.