Freedom. Liberty. I’m a big fan. My politics are libertarian. I’m a graduate of Liberty University. The uniform I wear represents liberty for many people here in the United States and around the world. America claims to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
What is freedom? It’s liberation “from” and it’s liberation “to.” If you are a slave, you have not been liberated. If you have no hope or purpose, you’re not free. Let’s explore three aspects of liberty, which all impact leaders and leadership.
Freedom to want something
Maybe you grew up with a different experience. But I did not grow up with a sense of privilege or entitlement. In the context of my family and church, I was trained to be a conforming member of the community. Adults instilled in me from a very young age the value of hard work, integrity, and playing by the rules. Whether it was left out or I simply missed it, no one taught me that I had a unique contribution to make to the community. No one showed me that I was uniquely gifted for the benefit of others.
I notice a lot of people who are afraid to want something. For some reason, it is too risky to say what we want. We are afraid of what someone might say or think if we were honest about what we want. If what you want is not illegal, or unethical, or immoral, why not own it? Why not be honest and open about what you want? It would be much better to feel free to want something than to live with the many pretend layers we add on.
C. S. Lewis said: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Maybe a first step toward finding joy is honesty about our desires.
Freedom to set goals
There is another freedom that can often elude us, particularly as leaders. This is the liberty to set goals. One of the primary reasons many of us don’t set goals is because we are afraid we won’t achieve them. We are afraid of what people will think of us if we set goals and then fail to reach them.
It is a huge step when you realize that setting goals matters even if you never reach them. It is ok to try for something and not succeed. You are better for having tried! So often we never even dare to set a goal, because we have chosen ahead of time that we would rather have guaranteed success at something we know we can do rather than take the risk of setting a goal we’re not sure we can accomplish.
In the movie “The Patriot,” Mel Gibson’s character tells his son, “Aim high, miss high.” We tend to aim low because we know we can hit low. But is that really the story you want to tell on your deathbed? When my wife and I were in the process of considering a move to pastor a small church in York, Nebraska, a friend told me, “You would rather go to York and fail than stay here in a comfortable suburban church and succeed.” Exactly.
Freedom to pursue wisdom
There’s one more freedom I’d like to talk about here. This is being free to pursue wisdom. Our culture often glorifies self-serving liberty. “Have it your way.” “You only live once.” There is another kind of liberation, besides taking off your bra or burning a flag or eating fatty foods. This is the view of freedom as more than the lifting of restraint. Instead, leaders can look at freedom as permission to pursue wisdom or as liberty to seek a better way.
I’ve seen what happens in families, in churches, in communities, and (let’s not kid ourselves!) our nation, when people use liberty to serve themselves. It is not pretty. Often it is not good. Put two people together who are intent on pleasing themselves, and you have a recipe for disaster. On a larger scale with more people, the mess only worsens.
My concept of this comes from the Bible, where a Christian conception of freedom is fleshed out as liberation from sin and a new-found ability to serve others without restraint. Whether or not you stand on the same theological ground as me, perhaps you can work through a concept of liberty something like this. Imagine people, teams, and communities intent on benefiting others and making their world a better place. If you’re not careful, you might end up getting sort of inspired.