Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin was a Soviet and Russian politician. He was the first President of the Russian Federation. He famously quoted that “We don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. Freedom is like that. It’s like air. When you have it, you don’t notice it.” People have a tendency not to appreciate what they have. We take things for granted on a daily basis, always with the assumption that whenever we need something, it will be there. It is the same way we view freedom. We fail to realize the real value of freedom and liberty until it goes missing from our life. Some of the countries are witnessing this currently.
Why is Freedom Essential?
In the past decade, we witnessed the struggle for freedom and democracy throughout the world. Many colonies gained independence from their oppressors. The fall of the Soviet Union was one of the greatest struggles for freedom we ever witnessed.
In this decade we got to see how societies rebelled for freedom. The Arab Spring is one of the best examples of people standing up against tyrannical dictators and authoritarian religious regimes to claim their freedom. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia with the self-immolation of a young fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi as a result of the government confiscating his street stall, which was one of the few forms of harassments he had faced in the hands of the government.
People were outraged that a man had so little control over his life that he had to kill himself to achieve basic human dignity. This incident was a catalyst for the fall of many dictators in the Middle East. Many other acts of self-immolation followed around the Middle East. People started protesting all over the Arab world and Africa for their rights and freedom. Similar protests have been observed throughout the world at various times for freedom.
So, why is freedom so valuable? Freedom is essential for living a dignified life. You can never be free with restrictions imposed upon you. The right to do, be and state anything you want or feel right is essential for happiness. Freedom to choose is what makes us humans.
It is difficult to understand freedom. People can understand and appreciate freedom only if they have a sense of the past and a highly developed understanding of human nature. Individuals who live in freedom tend to ignore its fragility and take it for granted.
Freedom is essential for the development of society. No society can move forward without freedom. Lack of freedom makes a culture airless and fragile. Governments are appointed to protect our freedoms. For a nation to progress, honest conversations are needed.
Honest conversations can only be made in a free society where your freedoms are protected. The right of others to free expression is also part of your own. If someone’s voice is silenced, it also stops you from listening to their perspective.
Why do People not Appreciate Freedom?
Free societies have people who are fortunate to be born into freedom but do not appreciate it. There are millions of people who are not so lucky. The freedoms of religion, speech, press, and to peaceably assemble and petition the government are the things that make a culture superior from the rest. To appreciate something, you need to live without it. Freedom and tolerance go hand in hand. Only highly tolerant people can accept the freedoms of others. That applies for societies too. Unfortunately, our tolerance for other people’s views is decreasing with every passing year. It can be witnessed by the entry of hate speech and blasphemy laws in many liberal countries of the West.
The failure of education is also one of the primary reasons for the lack of appreciation of freedom. Most millennials do not know anything about the First or Second World Wars, Soviet Russia, or the reformation. They do not know why the church and state were separated in the West. They do not understand the foundations of a free society. Many people in the West have started self-censoring themselves to be polite. They value people’s emotions more over the truth. Many people argue that freedom of speech should not offend people. But, free speech is supposed to be offensive. Freedom of speech is the right to be protected from death or harm no matter what you state. It is our only weapon we have against tyranny.
Late Christopher Hitchens, one of the most prominent freethinkers of our time, once said that citizens who lack manners, judgment, and sanity should also be allowed to speak. Freedom of speech is not only for the privileged few. When you resort to violence against speech, it shows the fragility of your ideas and your inability to logical reasoning.
In India, we are failing to protect free speech and religious freedoms increasingly. If people are constantly living in physical fear for their safety for saying something that offends the majority, such a society cannot be called a Democratic country. Inspite of remarkable changes in social and political state, some countries are still struggling to exercise freedom of speech in the right way. There are endless examples around the world.
You do not need to die to understand life. In the same way, you do not need to be a slave to understand freedom. Look at the world around you. Look at the lives of the people living under no freedom. It could be your life if you lose your freedoms. If you lose your freedom, you lose your society and your identification. With your society goes decades of human progress.
Written By: Sampurna Dutta