Glasser’s Basic Needs : Freedom

“There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia.  Freedom to and freedom from.  In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to.  Now you are being given freedom from.  Don’t underrate it.”

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood

Earlier this year as a staff team we undertook training in Managing Challenging Behaviour (run by the amazing team at the Releasing Potential Institute) and there was a particular focus on the importance of identifying and understanding young people’s needs.  This was based around William Glasser’s Choice Theory and the 5 basic needs that we all have as human beings. One of these five needs is “Freedom” which on the surface seems a relatively simple concept, however I think there is more to this need than we may ordinarily consider.

Aunt Lydia’s message above is one of caution, respect the freedom you have now from enduring the abuse you suffered in the past because it protects you from the anarchy that comes with the freedom for all to do whatever they want. With this freedom there is no accountability or protection for those more vulnerable from those with power and might and influence.  Freedom is an interesting concept in a society like ours.  We often associate freedom with a lack of responsibility or the ability to make our own choices but when we drill down it seems that freedom as we understand it can be a very selfish concept.  Aunt Lydia is not wrong that freedom to do whatever, whenever leads to power struggles and oppression of those who are vulnerable and weak.  But a compensatory “freedom from” seems a fraudulent application of what should feel like a purposeful, releasing and empowering state.

Both of these freedoms (to and from) are important but neither are fulfilling in their own right because both are only part of the story.  Having a sense of our value and purpose is key to living successfully in freedom. Without purpose our freedom to do whatever we want becomes meaningless because what will drive what we want? Remember the old saying “money can’t buy happiness”? That is to say the freedom we associate with wealth doesn’t actually bring fulfillment because wealth in itself doesn’t bestow purpose.

Freedom from isn’t truly experienced without value or purpose either. It’s not rocket science to notice that the rehabilitation programmes that have the most impact seem to be those where participants finish with a sense of value, hope and purpose. Their freedom from their imprisonment (whether physical, emotional or mental) is realised through a hope and purpose they now feel worthy of.

John Ortberg suggests a different perspective to freedom that reflects the role of purpose – Freedom For. We are free to do what we want to do and free from enslavement and oppression for a purpose. What that purpose will be is personal to each and every one of us but all our purposes as human beings living alongside each other in a shared world are interconnected in some way.  As an organisation that seeks to help young people know their value and understand their purpose it’s good for us to consider this. In our work and our planning we need to recognise the role purpose plays in how a young person can experience freedom and what they understand it to be because our politics and culture are often giving them a distorted message.


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