I had a conversation with two disillusioned young adults recently. They were looking for meaning in freedom, but I told them they wouldn’t find it there.
We’ve all been young, and most of us were disillusioned at one point. I certainly was, so I can sympathize. In our teen years, we’re convinced we know all the answers, then something happens in our late teens or early twenties – cancer, death of a loved one, financial ruin, estrangements – and nothing seems to make sense. So we get lost in freedom.
For this young couple, their freedom is marijuana, and their pursuit is to see it decriminalized in their state. So I followed them down that trail.
“Let’s say that happens. My next question is, to what end? Will you indulge your freedom at the exclusion of responsibility?”
They weren’t quick to answer, which meant they were listening.
I stuck my hands out to portray a scale. “Freedom is important. In fact, it’s worth protecting and ultimately dying for, as so many have. But freedom without responsibility leads to self indulgence and meaninglessness.” I moved my left hand, which signified freedom on the scale, all the way down to signify a large helping of freedom. I kept my right hand, which signified responsibility, at the top to show a complete lack of responsibility.
“We only find meaning when we willingly give up a little freedom.” I moved my hands to show a balance. Then I told them a story.
My mom raised my sister and me with little help from my father, who battled alcoholism most of his life. They divorced when I was eight. Mom made an internal commitment to make my sister and me her priority. She worked hard, scrimped and saved, asked for help from relatives and a woman in our neighborhood, and she made sacrifices my sister and I never knew about.
The one thing I did know was, I could count on Mom being home every night. She cooked us dinner, ran us around to extracurricular activities, helped us with homework and we watched television together. She never dated, even though she was free to do so. Instead, she willingly gave up her freedom because of her sense of responsibility toward us.
[Please don’t read this as a criticism of single mothers who are dating because that’s not what I’m saying. Instead, I’m pointing out one woman’s way of giving up some of her freedom because she felt a sense of responsibility elsewhere.]
At this point in the story, I raised the responsibility side of the scale upward and the freedom side downward. “She found meaning in sacrifice,” I said.
“If you were to live a life that was more heavily weighted toward responsibility than freedom, then you would find fulfillment,” I continued. “But the opposite is not true. If your scale is much more heavily weighted in favor of freedom, your life will always lack meaning.”
I hoped they were connecting a few dots internally. Investing a lot of time and energy into the decriminalization of marijuana is the wrong focus and it won’t satisfy them.
I did not understand this concept when I was young, even though my mom modeled it for me. So I lived out of balance, always leaning more heavily toward freedom than responsibility, but after caring for a couple of sick relatives I began to experience the satisfaction of giving myself away to help someone else and it changed my perspective.
Now I’m just hoping my experience helps to guide this young couple as they try to find their way.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.