A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the Timcast IRL podcast, and he had a guest on his show by the name of Yeonmi Park, who is a North Korean defector. Besides listening to her incredible story of escaping North Korea to be placed into a trafficking situation in China before finding her way to South Korea, she said something that I had never considered before:

It was very painful to be free…

Yeonmi Park

The reason it was painful for her was because she lived in a country where literally everything was determined for her, even down to what her favorite color was. It took her years to adjust to freedom and having to make her own decisions in life. She even described how in the very beginning of being in South Korea, if someone gave her the option to go back to North Korea but with the guarantee of having steady food, she would have chosen to go back to North Korea.

I think sometimes in America, we just say the word “freedom” without understanding the levity of freedom. In one respect, freedom is the ability to choose for yourself as an individual but we don’t talk about the other part of freedom because it’s not nearly as sexy; freedom is responsibility.

Since we have the freedom to decide what we do within our lives, that means that our choices are ours alone. That’s a heavy burden, especially if you continually make terrible decisions. Freedom comes at a cost and that cost is potential failure based on your individual decisions that don’t work in your favor. On a daily basis, you make hundreds of decisions, whether they are minor or major decisions, and no system or person is at fault for those decisions. You may have influences in your life that could inform you to make a particular decision, but you’re the judge and the jury with those particular decisions.

If you marry a terrible partner, well, you picked them. If you work at a terrible company, well, you agreed to work there. You make a variety of decisions in your life and the fact that you were able to make those decisions displays that you are in fact free.

What I’m noticing more frequently are the people who no longer have the desire for freedom because they have become accustomed to avoiding responsibility. They understand they can’t both be free and without responsibility, so throw the baby out with the bath water. In many cases, failure can be necessary for growth as long as you’re able to be accountable for your decisions.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I watched as there were two sides being fortified. It wasn’t liberal vs conservative; it was those who wanted the freedom to determine how risk adverse they wanted to be versus the people who wanted the government to determine the risk. I watched grown and intelligent people completely give up their freedom to decide if they wanted to risk going outside to a governmental bureaucrat that won a popularity contest. I also saw people who were watching the government bungle decisions and started believing in their personal judgement instead of a politician’s.

Whether you were for lockdowns or against lockdowns is not really the point, the point is more about whether you desired being told what to do or whether you wanted the freedom to determine how you wanted to live even during a pandemic. In this situation, there were people that wanted to keep the freedom to determine how they live even if it risked death for themselves. Even the people who wanted a return to normal also wanted everyone to have the freedom to decide to be risk adverse and stay at home if they choose to.

One of the largest misunderstandings between the opposing sides was that the side of “personal freedom” wanted a return to normal regardless of how everyone felt, which was always false. The side that wanted to keep its personal freedom simply wanted the government to be limited in dictating what American life looks like and let the people choose for themselves. The side of personal freedom knew the risks, and yet they still wanted the sole responsibility to live or die.

I love having the ability to decide for myself and not be a slave to someone else’s wants. I want to have the option to go with the flow or deviate from the mainstream. I have made a plethora of bad decisions in my life, yet I was able to overcome those mistakes and learn from them. I am who I am today for both my failures and my successes, and I could not imagine not having the freedom to continually fail. Yeonmi Park is correct, freedom is painful and for some of us who decided to choose for ourselves and paid the cost of death during the pandemic, that was the pain that we risked enduring. That is true freedom and I would never want to give that up, neither should you.

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