We all want peace. We all want relief from stress and anxiety. And we all want freedom.
But sometimes our thoughts, our speech and our actions create exactly the opposite of what we are looking for. This tends to happen when our strong emotions – our anger, our sadness, our jealousy, our hatred – take control of us and lead us to act in ways that are not particularly helpful. To the degree that we continue to do this, we will never be free and we will never have the peace we are looking for.
This month more than a dozen countries, from Burundi to the United States to Venezuela, celebrate their national freedom and independence. As we celebrate, and as we continue to work for freedom for everyone, let’s also take this opportunity to look at the conditions that make it more likely that we will live in freedom within ourselves. Let’s explore what we might do to take a fresh approach when triggered. Instead of lashing out, insulting and yelling so loudly that nobody can hear what we are saying, can we practice a way of responding that leads to building understanding?
This practice of looking after your strong emotions so that they don’t take control over the way you express yourself is critical for the freedom of the storyteller – especially the storyteller on a mission. This is not to say that we will be free from anger or sadness, rather that we realize that we always have a choice of how we express those feelings and that having control over them, rather than letting them control us, makes the difference between a conversation that is going to fuel polarization and violence and one that is going to promote friendship and propose moving forward together. Freedom is exercising that choice we all have of what we want to practice – what manner of thought, speech or action.
I love the simplicity and the elegance of the universal symbol of freedom designed by the Jan-Eric Zoon in his kitchen in a small village in The Netherlands … a smile, a frown, or a neutral expression? He designed this accidentally as he was explaining this choice to his children. “That is the freedom we all have. You can always choose how to deal with life, whatever may happen.”
It is said that a martial arts sensei once said: “You are always practicing something. The question is: what are you practicing?”