How Free is Your Mind?

How Free is Your Mind?
Easter 8

Last week we discussed the several definitions of the word philosophy. From the Greek word “philosophia”, the word literally translates into a “love of wisdom”. Your reaction to that might be the quintessential response of young people today – “Duh!” After all, who would hate wisdom? Your answer might be found in recent current events where students have been targeted: university students in Kenya shot, many killed; young girls abducted from their schools with many still missing over a year later.

Philosophers study how and what we think. They do this by using the human capacity for thought, what they call rational thought, to determine the answers to some of life’s most puzzling questions. To quote philosophy writer Marcus Weeks: “Philosophy is thinking: thinking about why things are the way they are, how best we should live our lives, how we can be certain about what we know, and what meaning, if any, there is to our existence.” [Whew!]

Weeks points out that religion and/or spirituality and science also seek to answer these questions. Religion, he feels, finds answers in faith and spirituality in belief, science answers by providing definition and description. Weeks maintains that philosophy used reasoning and seeks explanation.

Sir Isaiah Berlin was born in Latvia at the start of the twentieth century and died in Oxford, England at the close of it. In his obituary, he was described by the British newspaper “The Independent” thusly: “Isaiah Berlin was often described, especially in his old age, by means of superlatives: the world’s greatest talker, the century’s most inspired reader, one of the finest minds of our time… there is no doubt that he showed in more than one direction the unexpectedly large possibilities open to us at the top end of the range of human potential”.

A prolific writer as well as a talker, Berlin wrote what is considered one of England’s most popular essays, “The Hedgehog and the Fox”. The title is based upon a quote attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. A similar quote is also found in the work “Adagia” by Erasmus Rotterdamus as” Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum”, taken from an old fable “The Fox and the Cat”.

In his essay, Berlin divided thinking into two categories. Hedgehogs view the world through the lens of a single defining idea. Some prominent hedgehogs are Plato, Dante, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Ibsen, Proust, and Ferdinand Braudel. Foxes, Berlin wrote, drew on a wide variety of experiences. For the fox, the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea. Examples of foxes were given to include Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Moliere, Goethe, Balzac, and James Joyce.

In 1958, Sir Isaiah Berlin wrote his “Two Concepts of Liberty”. He defined liberty as having two sides. Negative freedom, Berlin wrote, is what we generally consider freedom. It is freedom without interference. Positive freedom, he believed, was freedom that came from within one’s self. Positive freedom was that which came from within, the resources that allowed one to achieve personal autonomy and realize one’s own potential. Negative freedom would then therefore be defined by our interactions with others while positive freedom was dependent upon personal development. He warned against the dangers of personal freedom which can lead to tyranny and freedom being only for the powerful. Berlin explained: “In a lake stocked with minnows and minnow-eating pike, freedom for the pike means death for the minnow.”

In the title I asked a question: “How free is your thinking?” If we allow others to tell us what we think or how we should dress, then we are rejecting any positive freedom and relying on negative freedom. Very little thought of our own is utilized. However, we cannot become tyrannical and claim it to be positive freedom. A hallmark of personal development is realizing that one cannot know everything. It not only takes a village to raise a child, it takes all of mankind to fully care for and understand the world.

How we live illustrate how free our thinking is. It also exemplifies how big our beliefs are and how large our god(s) is. In 2016 the United State of America will elect a new president. The first candidate for this election declared himself to be a candidate this past week and described himself as a conservative. He is not running on a platform of positive freedoms but one based upon negative freedoms. Similarly in countries around the globe, leaders are claiming great leadership when really they are simply being tyrants.

If your deity does not recognize all of mankind as equal then what does your deity (or deities) fear? Why are people of a certain skin type or eye shape seen as harmful? Why are those of a certain gender considered to be lesser individuals? Why does culture define a person’s worth for living and learning?

Hedgehogs live in both the moist climate of Great Britain and the dessert areas of Africa and New Zealand. A spiny mammal, it is vocal and will adopt the scent of its surroundings in a ritual termed “anointing”. The fox is also a mammal, like man. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and are also quite vocal. Whereas the hedgehog emits a series of grunts, though, the fox has a more varied and expansive vocal capability.

At times I am a hedgehog; I think most of us are. Whenever we feel insulted or attacked, we tend to retreat inward. Sometimes we are foxes and those are the times that we are able to explore and expand our minds. Being a fox can be scary. We might learn something astounding and we might just learn that we have been wrong or wronged another.

The greatest freedom, I believe, is the freedom to think we are greater than we presently are. When we realize the strongest words are “I’m sorry”, then our thinking is truly free. When we learn to live “I believe in you”, then we can achieve great things together. When we realize the only thing that makes our faith small is our own actions, then we will truly believe and explore our potential. When we really and truly believe peace is possible, then we will free ourselves to make it happen.


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