You can be yourself but you will probably have to grow up after you are grown.
Society is hostile, racist, dehumanizing and unfree. Yet it is possible for the individual to be free in an unfree world. However, most people are society-victimized and unfree.
What follows is the account of one person who transcends his environment, not by neglecting it or opposing it, as such, but by understanding it and even more important by understanding himself, and he is free to be. I am that individual.
The circumstances of my life have been anything but privileged in the classic sense of the word. As the twelfth of sixteen children, born in near-poverty, fatherless at fourteen, compelled to walk seven miles (one way to school), even though school busses came near my door that transported only white students, forced to attend segregated schools and later to serve as a soldier in a segregated army, I know what it means to be in a racist and hostile world. I've been in the crucible.
I have also fought the system in various ways and at sundry times. It began when I, as a boy, shot the tires off a school bus that wouldn't pick me up because I was black. Another incident was my leading a company of black soldiers in attacking segregated facilities just outside an Army base in Maryland which almost started a race riot. As president of the student body of a University, I led the students in direct action in an attempt to secure equal rights for female students. Perhaps the most spectacular and historic example of my attacking the system would be when I, along with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ralph D. Abernathy, E. D. Nixon, who posted bail for Rosa Parks, and a few other persons, organized the Montgomery Improvement Association (of which I was the original secretary which provided leadership for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I've been to court to fight housing discrimination in California, for denial of religious freedom and to recover damages suffered as a result of policemen's entry into my home.
I have earned several degrees and formerly served as a credential public shcool teacher and ordained minister-pastor. I gave up both professions to be a non-professional and to be real. I decided to do my own thing which means that I sometimes work long hours and recieved no pay or I am financially underpaid. Sometimes It mean working no hours. During the last two years I have attended school at least one full day each week to satisfy my own intellectual curiosity. I have been married and gave up my wife, or maybe she gave me up. Now I have many friendships - romantic and platonic - relationships with women and men. Nobody posseses me and I don't posses anybody. As Gibran put it "Love possesses not neither will it be possessed." I am not responsible to anybody but myself. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "To thine own self be responsible." I can say YES and NO and not feel guilty. I can now see the individual as a person first and as a female or male second. Oftentimes in seeing, say, an individual as person first during a given encounter, I never get around to seeing the person as a woman or man. I can embace both men and women. That's beautiful.
I have been on the lecture circuit. The night before President John F. Kennedy was assasinated I lectured in Cleveland and the day of his assasination I had just flown into Boston to lecture when the word came: "President Kennedy is dead!" Shortly after that world-shaking event I gave up lecturing.
I have little of the material goods of this world and yet I am rich. Jesus once said "What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?" I walk tall and I am proud. I agree with Erich Fromm that to be free is to have "economic freedom, moral freedom and intellectual freedom," but I hasten to say, economic freedom does not mean a high-paying job, a big bank account or a big house or social security. It means that economically a person can meet his human needs but not his needs for gluttony, greed or luxury or his wants. As for moral freedom, or what I call spiritual freedom, it is vital to being free. It has nothing to do with societal law but a great deal to do with natural law which is more spirit than law. Intellectual freedom is important but it is not an accumulation of second-handed or re-hatched so-called facts or adjustment training commonly called education which is being taught in most American schools. Intellectual freedom is feeling education. It is creativity, imagination, dreams, visions and emotions, harmoniously actualized in the uniqueness of human personality.
What is freedom? It is living your life as you want to live it. But you exclaim, "Can that happen in this society?" My response is, 'Yes, it can happen." Most people, however will live, as David Thoreau observed, "Lives of quiet desperation." I 'm not unfree, it's the world that's unfree. Perhaps if I let you know how I gained my freedom you may understand that it can happen for you.
I was a grown man, but like most grown people I had never grown up. I didn't know who I was. I didn't like myself. I was angry, frustrated, and my life was wiithout meaning. I was unaware of the alternatives available to me. I had accepted without question certain preconceived and society-imprinted notions that restricted my freedom. A seven-year quest in search of myself was most revealing. I discovered that my self had been suppressed, denied and had barely survived miraculously. As I put it, "But for the grace of God I would have been dead any one of a thousand times."
For the first time I asked myself, "Am I who I want to be?" The answer came, "No, a thousand times." In the past I had tried to be what others wanted me to be. I then embarked upon a total rejection of everything I had ever been taught, eliminating from my awareness all right and wrong and all good and bad, including God and the Devil. This meant rejecting all that my mother and father, teachers, minsters and society had ever taught me. I gave up on God who had never found me. I wouldn't let Him. I abandoned everything except a little puny self, the victim of many years of deprivation and anguish. Then, I began a process of building my own value system and doing what I felt was good for me without any concern as to what I had been taught was right or wrong. I came to be able to trust my feelings. If it feel good, I know it is good. I became now-oriented rather than past or future-oriented. I became personality-oriented rather than achievement-oriented. I became the most important person in the universe and the center of my world. I gave others the right to be the center of their worlds. For the first time I defined myself. I know who I am and nobody can define me. And whenever anyone endeavors to define me, if I think it's important l will inform the would-be definer that if he really wants to know who I am, "ask me," and if I feel like it I will let him know who I am.
Max Stirner spoke well when he said: "It is not recognized in the full amplitude of the word that all freedom is essentially self-liberation - that I can have only so much freedom as I procure for myself by my ownness."
Now I am free to be - to think, to judge, feel, value, love, honor and esteem, hate, fear, desire, hope for, believe in, be committed to and to enjoy. I don't have to be perfect. I am free to be as Dr. Martin Luther King put it in his Washington "I Have a Dream" speech, "I'm free at last!" But my freedom did not come from protests, marches or demonstrations, although I've been invovled in them and remain to this day an activist. I discovered I have only a short time to live and I cannot afford to wait for society to get free before I get free because I am not going to live long enough to see a free society. I AM FREE IN AN UNFREE WORLD.
As a free person I can enjoy life every day. This is bliss. I am caught up in the rapture of today, the eternal now. This is a delectable state. I am free and I am happy.
I'M FREE TO BE;
I'M FREE TO BE;
FEREEDOM IS MY RIGHT;
I'M FREEE TO BE.
The above story is taken from pages 243-246 of my book, "BE THE BEST: Do It Easy, Do It Now," by Uriah J. Fields. (Published 1983; 255 pages).
To order your copy of this book send me an email, indicating your interest or write to: Uriah J. Fields, P. O. Box 4770, Charlottesville, VA 22905.