The Heart of Freedom Suffers

June 28, 2006 § 1 Comment

In the United States (US) we value the “Spirit of Freedom”, upon which this great nation was founded. Our society is hinged upon the ideal of “Freedom; therefore its influence is interwoven into the fabric of our lives. The fruit of this ideal, freedom is naturally expressed as a state of independence, one where choices are fundamentally absent of necessity, coercion or constraints. As a matter of course a free society allows for the growth and development of autonomy in the character of its people. This ideally empowers an individual to surmount oppressive conditions, which might otherwise influence decision-making. I am suggesting what archetype of our free society will support, however it is obvious that the definition of freedom becomes more complicated as a result of the fickle disposition of human psychology.

Nevertheless, the ideal of a free and sovereign society nourishes bravery in the hearts of its people. In the words of Thucydides (an ancient Athenian aristocrat), “the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding [danger] go out to meet it.” It was this degree of bravery that Chris McCandless the main character of Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild exhibited during his life as a young man; an adventurer; traveler and “Supertramp”.

McCandless was the kind of person who would plunge into the most frightening conditions for direct experience of his ideals. Despite his daring, as a young man McCandless often made choices that could provoke an onlooker to question his sanity. Although, McCandless was always headstrong and determined to do things his own way, he would often make rash decisions which compromised his safety for a sense of adventure and accomplishment. For instance, when McCandless was twelve years old he and his father climbed Longs Peak in Colorado reaching approximately 13,000 feet of over a 14,000 foot elevation. When the route became dangerous and more appropriate for an experience climber his father Walt decided they should turn around,

“I’d had it, OK,”

Walt commented during an interview,

“but Chris wanted to keep going to the top. I told him no way. He was only twelve then, so all he could do was complain… Chris was fearless even when he was little” (Krakauer).

It’s hard to say whether McCandless’ desire to climb the peak further was bravery or foolishness, but evidently it does reveal a certain level of daring which could translate to courage or bravery depending on its context.

Likewise, in our lives the element of daring can exist. The willingness to risk our security, safety and/or our lives is daring but it is the context of the risks we take which deems it courage; bravery or just plain stupidity. Therefore Thucydides is correct in saying,

“the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding [danger] go out to meet it.”

Therefore, having clear vision of the challenges to come and obstacles to face also provides insight into the result of not facing those challenges. This can be frightening, indeed more frightening than being ignorant of the dangers and perils involved, yet seeking the next thrill.

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