illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
A common mental fabrication about 'freedom' implicitly or explicitly asserts that "freedom is doing whatever I want, whenever I want."
The most recent variation of this theme on my posts was « the sole function of marriage is anti-freedom » (gplus.wallez.name/bds7Ra3UwQo). Another classic is on taxation.
That's not understanding what freedom is, that's confusing it with a naïve narrative, blind and unresponsive to context.
Freedom is in having choices, but not necessarily just "any choice 'I' want"; it is not in denying that we continuously live in a context that imposes local, ever-changing constraints (including by 'contract' or by other social conventions).
In a given context, e.g. I may be either nasty and critical of my spouse, or kind and supportive: the freedom I enjoy is the ability to pick one of these attitudes, and it is not taken away by a piece of paper asserting some social or conventional status! The same is true even if the marriage ends 'prematurely' and divorce proceedings impose very strong constraints: "what can I do to manifest kindness?" totally remains an open question, and no paper or ruling can take this away! I might 'pay' ('forward' or 'spot'!) to manifest my choice, but I still can choose to be kind… and if I don't (because I don't want to pay the associated 'price'), then I have to take responsibility for my selfishness; blaming the circumstances instead is only a copout.
The fundamental delusion that some people have about freedom is that they imagine that they should be able to do whatever they want, while others would be truly bound by their words… e.g. "I can spend my money on holiday, if I want to" but, of course, without allowing the providers to spend the money I sent on their own preferences: they 'should' provide what I paid for! It's irrelevant whether they're rather spend it on themselves than provide the service they announced, "I'm entitled to my holidays!" The self-obsession is striking!
In relationships, this delusion might take the form of allowing oneself to have affairs while expecting one's partner to remain faithful (and becoming very upset should the partner stray). The self-centredness is striking!
Most people understand that, to an extent, one's freedom stops where it starts coercing others. But then, surely, 'freedom' does not naïvely amount to "doing whatever one wants" (or are all the scammers and abusers of the world just fairly exercising their freedom?). Having a choice between kindness and e.g. indifference could qualify though.
Indifference isn't coercion, but it isn't exactly the most wholesome attitude either… There are choices which are not black-or-white, not benefiting-or-harming, with complex levels of greys, multiple effects (of different benevolence), nuances and subtleties. There are choices which seem ethically equivalent (equally good… or equally bad) but which do not lead to the same outcomes, and choices where the moral compass is not even the primary relevant perspective to consider!
The six "perfected qualities" are: generosity, morality/discipline, patience, determination/effort, cultivation, wisdom. Does it sound like these could ever be taken away from you by contract, by force?
The four "immeasurables" are: loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. Does it sound like these could ever be taken away from you by contract, by force?
All these are mental qualities (not that they're unaffected by the context, but the mind is majorly involved).
Circumstances might challenge your mastery of them, might question you "are you as equanimous as you claim/think you are?" In buddhist terms, the "daughters of Māra" —or Māra himself— might knock at the door, might "send their armies", try to unsettle your "immovable mind", try to "claim your seat"… but nothing can forcibly take these qualities away!
You might let yourself down, and might then make self-serving narratives to exonerate yourself from the responsibility (« I only followed (was bound by) orders »), but there's no essence behind such empty narratives, they're just the ego craving for legitimacy and untainted reputation. The choice is yours (the Nuremberg defense doesn't exonerate one from conscientious objection).
Each alternative presented to you might come with a different 'price' and clinging to the "eight worldly winds" (pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, gain and loss… i.e. narratives pushing and pulling the undisciplined mind) might bias your response. The difficulty is your lust and aversion for phenomena though; no 'contract' can take your freedom away, but you can let yourself down and make yourself a slave of short-termism (lust or fear)! Obscuring buddha-nature is what the ordinary mind does! Your potential is present but, do you see it or do you let defilements and mental proliferations (notably around the 'self') cover it?
Freedom is not in wishing the world would be different and having a magic wand to make the world conform with such wishes: that's lust, that's greed, that's slavery to one's desires and compulsions.
Freedom is in the cessation of biases from lust, aversion and ignorance. Its manifestation is in appropriate, wholesome and creative responses to the situations at hand. Creativity doesn't nullify the demands of accordance to the context, nor does it vanish by them ("neither existence nor non-existence", anyone? "Neither-unconstrained-nor-constrained").
Photo: "La Jeune Fille à la Fleur" © Marc Riboud (1967)