‘What will be the hardest part you have to give up during a possible lockdown?’ we wondered weeks before we would effectively go into it. ‘Freedom’ was the unanimous answer we had.
We are so used to the freedom we have; we are not even aware of it. Yet, no single kind of freedom should be taken for granted. Everywhere around the world, to more or less degrees, people fight to obtain a little bit more freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom of sexuality, freedom of political suppression, freedom of interpersonal suppression, freedom to make a career shift, freedom to move, freedom just to be. Throughout history, many people have given their lives for freedom.
Freedom fighters have created a pathway we started walking on, without even questioning who created it. Without even noticing that some of these pathways are fairly recently created, while others are even still or again fragile.
Some paths go until a certain point, after which they become unclear and dubious. Some take you to a crossroad of which you are not always sure which sideway will bring you further or which will bring you back to the beginning.
Some people have started running through the bush as the ultimate way to freedom. Off the beaten track, going wherever they want to go. Yet, this kind of ultimate freedom sometimes comes at a high price. Sometime the price won’t be less than the live of the freedom fighter.
Prisoner at Home
‘I am a prisoner in my own house,’ he said. The old man’s eyes were glazing, tears were welling up. He watched at the infinity of the ocean while talking to me. ‘In front of my window are iron spiles, in front of my door is an iron gate.’ Not to prevent him from getting out, but to prevent others from getting in.
He was a prisoner at home. Not to prevent himself going out, but for others coming in.
It was 2015, before everything escalated badly, and his home situation would become daily front page news. The Venezuelan told about how life had gone bad, how poverty and criminality was increasing in his home country, turning his home into a prison. Tiered of being locked down, afraid to walk his own streets, to even open his door, he was on the run.
The years to follow I would meet more and more Venezuelans all over Latin America, from Costa Rica to Brazil, on the run of being taken away every single kind of freedom they could have. Freedom of speech, and freedom of press; freedom to move, and freedom to have a safe home; freedom created by safety, freedom created by economic potential. Desperate, with no future in mind and no freedom left, they were on the move.
Yet, many ended up stuck at borders. Between all countries, queuing up, hoping for light at the tunnel at the other side of the border. Many of them would not make it. Over the years to come more and more borders would get closed for them. Making them no more prisoners at home, but prisoners at the border, with nowhere else to go.
Freedom of Expression
If my journeys as research journalist have taught me anything, it must be the value of freedom. Freedom in all its means. Freedom of press and expression, as a journalist and even just as a human being. How many people’s live has been taken away or treated because they expressed their own opinion? How many journalists, human right defenders, just individuals who step up, have been confronted tremendously with the limits of freedom of expression? How often have I been confronted with the limitations of freedom of press and expression, and forced to make certain decisions based not on what I know, but on how far I could go within these limitations?
Corona teaches us again how fragile this kind of freedom is. The Hungarian president Orban has recently passed a law to cope with Covid-19. The law gave him the ultimate freedom to do whatever is in his power to fight Covid-19. This ultimate freedom will not only limit the freedom of the virus, but of his inhabitants as well, not in the meaning of a physical lockdown, but of an intellectual as well. Orban was already known for not respecting human rights and freedom of press and of expression, you can imagine how far it will go now. Orban’s ultimate freedom will curb the freedom of many others.
Freedom of Safety
This kind of freedom comes together with the freedom caused by safety. Yet, this is the kind of freedom you only realise you have the moment you step away of it, or it is taken away of you.
The absence of war, violence, and criminality, set you free. It allows you to feel safe at home (in the absence of domestic violence), or to walk down your street without having to watch your back, without having to fear for your life, without having to look for shelter or an escape way.
The absence of this fear and survival mechanisms, causes freedom. It makes you walk out of your house not even wondering if you would make it back well and save. It gives you peace of mind, which is the ultimate feeling of freedom.
Peace of mind is the ultimate feeling of freedom.
Safety gives you the freedom to live your life up to your values and goals. It allows you to visit your neighbour, to go to school or work, to do groceries, to wander around. It gives you the freedom from being yourself, until exploring the edges of your surroundings.
Yet, this kind of freedom hasn’t been obtained everywhere and at all times of history. From police guarding an already safe neighbourhood, until soldiers fighting to enemy; from a surveillance camera on a shop’s door, until militaries hunting gangs down. From social control until social distancing.
The freedom created by safety is often taken for granted in those places where it is already is obtained or not yet has been threatened. Yet, it is the most valuable kind of freedom we have. The premise for all others.
Freedom by safety is the premise for all others.
One freedom for another
It is true that our freedom to move around is taken away, yet, it is taken away temporary to create a bigger freedom when this is all over: health and safety. In addition, allow this drastic measure to become conscious of where freedom really stands for and how fragile it is.
So today, if you read the newspaper, if you talk openly about what is going on without having the feeling your life is at an immediate treat, be grateful. If you go for a walk, even only in your neighbourhood, be grateful. If you come home and feel safe, be grateful. If you feel imprisoned in your own house, and the immediate freedom to make bigger moves is taken away, remember the story of the Venezuelan, and be grateful.
As well, be compassionate for those who lack all these kinds of freedom, and be encouraged to become the freedom fighter when freedom is unjustified at risk. Become a guardian of freedom for the freedoms we’ve obtained throughout history, and for those people who lack the freedom to fight for their own.
This article is part of the series of Hope in Times of Corona. Read on how this times of self-isolation should not mean loneliness, on how you can contribute to this battle, on how gratitude lights up the dark, on how united we will stand strong. and on the most util strategy in awake of a crisis or on how I got blown of my feet as well, but caught by many caring hands, or on how being calm can get us through the storm. And what about Love in Times of Corona? or discovering your own talents? and why we need stories to hold on to; And especially how you can be creative and innovative. or how to spend your mot valuable assets in times of Corona. and how to listen to the sound of silence. and How breathing takin Corona really is. Or wait until tomorrow, when I’ll shine another light on yet another positive corner of this dark times.