Our imagination is the only true freedom we have. Before you decide that is depressing and melodramatic, consider this. What really impinges on our freedom more than anything? Is it the government or is it the mores and expectations of friends, family, and community? What stops us from pursuing our dreams, the police or our fears? There are many things that hold us back, health, financial limitations, even time, but for those of us who live in a relatively free society, we are the ones who limit our freedom.
As a white woman in the United States, I am relatively free of governmental repression. Of course, there are many cultural limits on women’s freedom and if some get their way, there will be governmental restrictions as well. But given the continuum of freedom in the world, I am comfortably situated on the relatively free section.
I have been arrested a few times for my political activities and always released with an apology. For people who are not white, police encounters are more dangerous. In fact, over-policing and police impunity are repressive, a form of unofficially sanctioned terrorism to set the limits on the movements and aspirations of people of color. Nonetheless compared to many places in the world, we continue to enjoy a relatively high degree of political freedom–for the moment. That may change, as some states are trying to criminalize protest and political activity.
The idea that our imagination is our only true freedom makes me think of Mahatma Gandhi who said, “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.” This is real freedom. That is why we are the ones who keep us unfree and we are the only ones who can liberate us.
Epictetus said we had the freedom of choice whether we stand at the podium or in a prison. I think of Epictetus when I think about Donald Trump. He may be the “leader of the free world” but he is one of the least free beings I can think of. He is a prisoner of his desperate need for approval and praise. He is a prisoner of rage, it clouds his judgment and incapacitates his reason. He will never be content, not to mention happy, because he is a prisoner of fear. No matter how many podia he speaks from, he will never be free.
Real freedom is in peace of mind, in being able to make your choices without fear or anger. Real freedom is when your mind is free of emotional traps, societal limitations and cultural prisons. So, yes, our imagination is the only true freedom we have…if we dare to grasp it.