Constrained freedom

June 1, 2011

If you watch or read the news, likely you’ve heard the story of the genderless baby.
A family in Ontario has decided to keep the gender of their baby -
named “Storm” - a secret, so as to not allow social expectations around
gender influence the development of their child. In the words of the
parents, “We've decided not to share Storm's sex for now — a tribute to
freedom and choice in place of limitation.”

As you can imagine, their choice has caused quite a stir.

It
got me thinking though, how does/can/should society influence our
development as human beings? Or more close to home, speaking as a parent
myself, what role do parents play in their child’s identity? For this
family, they say as little as possible. Unconstrained personal freedom,
they suggest, is the path to true humanity.

This approach to human identity is nothing new. Ancient philosophers,
medieval mystics, modern rationalists, and postmodern spiritualists -
and yes, Oprah! - often approach identity from this individualist
perspective. Freedom to choose one’s own path is of utmost importance.
Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms serves to protect our fundamental freedoms: "Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”

But
I wonder, is “unconstrained freedom” realistic? Or even healthy? Much
of the emphasis on freedom is placed over and against the countless
examples in history where authority is abused (e.g. Communist Russia,
residential schools, abusive parents, etc...). And true, the many
examples provide good reason to maintain the freedoms we protect. But if
I put these easy targets aside, I wonder: is it possible, necessary
even, to have a positive view of constrained freedom? I think so.

As
parents, this starts with the basic fundamentals of life in the world -
e.g. teaching our kids to look both ways before crossing the street. We
accept this constrained freedom as necessary for the well-being of our
kids. Beyond this obvious example, however, I think a level of
constrained freedom can be healthy in many relationships, not just
parent-child interaction. Sharing wisdom, maintaining accountability,
and mentoring are all examples where individuals can speak
constructively into each others lives providing opinion and direction to
positively influence our development as people. In our haste to reject
abusive authority, we tend to forget the possibility of positive
influence in our lives.

I realize this issue is far more complex
than this brief reflection identifies, but I think we need to consider
the possibility that constrained freedom doesn’t have to be negative or
harmful. We should heed these words from St. Paul: “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:11).

Originally posted at Considerations.

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