August 30, 2023 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Total Freedom: Part 2. A portrait of a free person
Before discussing how to achieve total freedom, let us look at a person who is totally free.
What makes us free? Stoics believed that the only true freedom is psychological freedom. Psychological freedom is when you feel free, no matter what life hands to you. No one grants you this freedom. You grant it to yourself. When you truly achieve inner freedom, nothing that happens to you can ever hurt you.
More than any other Stoic philosopher, Epictetus emphasized this type of total freedom. In his Discourses (especially in Book 4), he described what makes a person free. Epictetus’ idea of what makes a person totally free can be summed up in ten dimensions. Check yourself with this list to see how free you are.
1. A free person is not a slave to her desires
Your desires imprison you. If you desperately desire a promotion, you are slave to your boss or anyone else who can grant you the promotion. If you desperately desire money, you may even compromise your principles. If you desperately desire longevity, you are the victim of any person who apparently has the secret. Any desire, especially if it is intense will rob you of your freedom. How do you avoid this trap? Epictetus has a solution. If you confine your desires only to what is under your control, then you will never be unfree. When we desire something that is not under our control, anyone who has control over what we desire has power over us. When someone has power over us, we cannot be free. But if you don’t desire anything that is not under your control, then you cannot be compelled, obstructed, or controlled; your choices cannot be blocked; you get your desires fulfilled and you don’t face anything you want to avoid. External things themselves are not the problem, but hanging on to them is. You can still enjoy things that the world has to offer if you are willing to lose them any time without warning. When you align what you want to happen with what actually happens, you will be completely free.
2. A free person is willing to pay the price for freedom
We all want freedom, but like everything it has a price. Many of us who want to be free are not willing to pay the price. If you want to be free, be prepared to pay. Your freedom is a valuable thing. If you want it, you should give up something that is of equal value to you now. You may have to choose between being restrained and dignified over pointlessly wasting time over frivolous things. Make your choice. But no matter what you choose, do it wholeheartedly. If you try to do two things at once, you will achieve neither.
3. A free person doesn’t value external things
The more value you attach to external things, the less free you are to choose. For example, if you value fame, then you have to what you think will elicit praise from others. You are not free then. Don’t attach value to external things. Take them as they come. It is not what you do, but your judgments behind what you do that will decide whether you will be free or not. The more value you attach to any external thing – even if it a desirable thing – the less free you become. You become fearless when you stop valuing external things.
4. A free person does not worry about other people's opinions
Pay attention to what you truly care about. Then you won’t be upset by what others think or say about you. When you don’t value external things, other people’s opinions and their behaviour become irrelevant to you. So, you cannot be upset by them or be in conflict with them.
5. A free person is not hasty
Free people are not carried away by external things but take their time to judge things properly. They know that poor judgments are the cause of all evil and make sure they judge impressions correctly. They are patient and don’t try to show off before they are ready. Hasty, unconsidered decisions bind us. Thoughtful, considered decisions lead us to freedom. Don’t be carried away by (first) impressions.
6. A free person is not envious
When someone has things that you don’t have, don’t assume they got them for free. They paid a price in terms of flattering others and putting up with things that they really didn’t want to do. You, on the other hand, have your freedom. There is no need to envy others. When you are envious, you tell yourself you lack something that someone else has. That’s no way to be free.
7. A free person is not anxious about the future
When you are anxious about the future, you want something that is not under your control. By being anxious about things you cannot control, you let go of things that are under your control. If you paid more attention to what is under your control and less attention to what is not, you would not be anxious.
8. A free person takes care of both mind and body
A free person keeps themselves clean both in body and in mind. While they are cultivating their inner qualities, they won’t neglect their outer appearance. A healthy body is not a prerequisite for freedom. You can be unhealthy and yet be free. However, well maintained mind and body aid freedom.
9. A free person is steadfast
When you let your mind wander, it is not easy to bring it back. Therefore, you should constantly keep the basic principles in mind and practice them. You don’t need to be perfect. But if you let your mind wander or procrastinate, it will lead to more procrastination.
10. A free person does not feel compelled to confide
Free people are not quick to divulge their secrets, just because someone else did so. They are not compelled to reciprocate confidences. They judge for themselves whether to divulge confidences and refrain from gossiping.
This, then, is the portrait of a free person. In the next part we will see how we can achieve total freedom.
(The next article in this series will be published on September 3. 2023)