Wisdom from Eleanor Roosevelt on the limits and benefits of individual liberty
You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt. And you honestly all should read it because it’s all the same stuff I write about in my blog and my book about Humanism, but it’s from Eleanor Roosevelt! Which basically means, I’m not an out there crazy person preaching crazy thoughts. This is in fact deep wisdom.
I have always thought of Eleanor as a role model for the sort of person I should aspire to be. Now that I have read her book, I feel even more strongly about how amazing she was as a woman.
Anyway, back to the idea of freedom. One of the quotes in the book is about Freedom and self-discipline. She says,
“When you come to understand self-discipline you begin to understand the limits of freedom. You grasp the fact that freedom is never absolute, that it must always be contained within the framework of other people’s freedom.”
I like this quote because it talks about the connection between responsibility and freedom. We humans don’t exist in a vacuum. We are interdependent. The struggle we all have is in finding the balance between personal autonomy and social obligation.
This struggle can’t be solved by taking an extreme position. Absolute autonomy is a myth. Your actions do affect other people and you have a moral obligation to consider the impact your actions will have on others. Failure to do this is a failure in your morality.
The other extreme is just as bad. If social obligation is taken to an extreme, it becomes social subjugation and that’s a terrifying thought.
The Humanist approach is to accept that it is our responsibility to balance our need for autonomy and our social obligations in a way that benefits us and the society in which we live, or a socially embedded form of autonomy. This isn’t easy to do and we don’t always get the balance right, but I would suggest that actively being conscious of the need to do this yields better results than just winging it does. The added bonus is that making an effort to ensure that your actions help others and yourself feels really good. As Eleanor says, it is a sign of emotional maturity to approach life in such a balanced and responsible fashion. In fact, it’s the definition of being responsible.
What is your favorite quote about freedom and responsibility?