When I came to the US for the very first time, the perception of the country that I had back then was a compilation of images created by media and popular culture and replicated by people’s mundane judgments. The country of freedom and the American dream.
I remember that my first impression was that there is no ‘freedom’ in the US. You can’t do things that are allowed in Russia. You can’t drink alcohol until you are 21 and yet you can drive your own vehicle. You don’t have anywhere to go out after midnight because all the bars close. You can’t register to a class of your choice at the university and get credit for it if you fail to secure a spot because other people were quicker. You are not allowed to walk anywhere you want on the street (even if there is no fence) because some areas are private property and you can not trespass there. You can’t drink alcohol on the beach (hey, why can’t I spend a romantic evening with someone important enjoying sunset and a little wine?..). You are not allowed to stay in the park after dark, even in the central park in a populated community, and yet homeless people are allowed to sleep and do whatever they want pretty much anywhere, which makes, for example, parents with kids avoid some places. You can’t have picnic or camp anywhere you want. Everything seemed so much regulated. In Russia was used to the concept that if you know how to ask and whom to ask, you can get around pretty much any regulation.
So I started to think that the very concept of freedom is different in the US and in Russia. My hypothesis was that in Russia it is more like ‘liberty’ which means that if you are free, you can do anything you want, anything that comes to your mind here and now, and nobody will tell you anything. Getting round regulations.
I started asking my friends what does freedom means for them and all the answers were similar. They said that freedom means being able to do what you like, spend time with your loved ones and friends whenever you want, travel to beautiful and meaningful places for you and pursue your dreams while not feeling restricted by work schedule imposed by employer. Apparently the employer is perceived as someone who gets in the way to their dreams. Interestingly it doesn’t necessarily mean that people I talked to would really drop everything and embark on the road to their dream (because they have families to feed, bills to pay, investors to please and employees to think about). It just means that they have this option. In this context having freedom means having choice, or having the right to choose in the personal understanding of the concept of freedom. And it doesn’t really matter whether they will use the opportunity to chose or not. The very fact that they have it is important.
What does freedom mean for you?