DEAR DEANNA: WHAT DOES THE FREEDOM TO DECIDE MEAN?
"I see so many people talk about freedom in ways that are a bit scary. How do I find a way to be okay with these opinions?" — Aaron
A writer named Voltaire once said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” I think that was a pretty powerful statement in 18th century France on the cusp of revolution. He fought for freedom of speech in a country where the monarchy had strict rules about such things and freedom for its own sake was a new concept.
There have been more than a few times this past year that the actions of the people have resembled historic revolutions, for better or worse. A lot of blood has been shed for the ideal of freedom of speech. And recently there’s been a push and pull between the corporations that profit from open dialog and the idea that some things should not be said out in the open. When Twitter shuts down accounts, some feel as though their freedoms have been stifled.
While companies have the right to refuse service, we as individuals still have to live in this online social world where someone we care about may express a shocking opinion, or have other friends who support different values than our own. Humans like to feel as though they belong. When contradictory statements come up in their space, it can be hard not only to understand where that viewpoint comes from, but it can be isolating and dispiriting. This goes for all sides of an issue.
Now more than ever, we all have ways of making our voices heard and you can’t put that toothpaste back into the tube. What needs to happen is a critical look at the results of open speech and the influence of the source. In America, if you have the freedom to decide, then everyone else has the freedom to decide, too. That extends to people who have different values, different income, different genetic makeup, different religion, different political affiliation, different gender identification, different academic standing. But after the decision, what you do next is key.
So, if you’re feeling afraid or angry and drained from decisions you’re seeing others make, remember to apply the opposite to take care of yourself. Make your own decision about what happens next. Is the result of the decision something dangerous and illegal? Could the decision lead to harm? Is the individual in the position to influence others with their decision? Try to separate the decision or the opinion from resulting action.
If the decision truly does not require your intervention and if you still have the ability to decide whether to raise your own voice, pack the space between you and the other person with your own self-care buffer.
Cool down anger with a cooling breathing exercise where you curl your tongue and breathe in and out through your mouth (or if your tongue doesn’t bend that way, make your mouth into a little “o” to have the same effect.) Take a sniff of peppermint oil or grapefruit.
Nourish your feelings of dry, draining depletion by focusing on what is sweet in your space. Maybe it’s pictures of kittens, maybe it's a hug from your partner or child, maybe it’s a lovely soup.
And warm up cold fear with plenty of grounding and enveloped safety. Wrap up in a blanket, wrap your arms around yourself or around a stuffed animal, hold a heavy stone on your belly. You are safe right in this moment, so breathe deeply.
When you have a feeling of safety and grounding, you are better able to determine whether any other personal action needs to be taken. Surround yourself with a team of like-minded individuals to help you feel connected even while you consider differing viewpoints with an objective eye.
Make up your own mind about what to do next!