Freedom has many different faces.
I was born in a country in which freedom forms the
cornerstone of our democracy. We have a Bill of Rights that guarantees
basic freedoms unknown in many parts of the world. The truth is,
everywhere on planet earth, people are free, but the consequences of
exercising that freedom may be catastrophic. I have been in countries
in which the secret police are more than happy to watch you exercise
your personal freedom, because it makes their job easier. They know who
they need to keep under surveillance. Any country without a Bill of
Rights is a scary place to live, and for that matter, any country
eroding their Bill of Rights is turning its back on greatness. To the
degree they amend their fundamental freedoms, to that degree they have
fallen from grace and trivialized the sacrifices made by all who have
gone before that gave their lives to guarantee their freedom.
Many people don't understand the meaning of freedom.
They talk about freedom, but worship at the altar of
irresponsibility. They actually believe the world owes them the right
to do whatever they want, irrespective of the impact it has on
themselves or other people. That's not freedom; it's anarchy and
If you can take the Bill of Rights seriously without
sliding down the slippery slope of irresponsibility, you are headed in
the right direction. That doesn't mean you are free, but at least you
have a firm foundation on which you can build a life.
The Bill of Rights protects your freedom from being
compromised by forces outside yourself. But there is nothing in that
document that makes you free, because
true freedom comes from within.
Your culture has many powerful forces at work that would curtail your
personal freedom, but they never march in the front door and put
shackles on your arms and legs, They come in the back door with their
ball and chain, place them on the table, and let you put them on all by
yourself. They don't need to strong arm you or even intimidate you,
because you will make choices that will shackle you more securely than a
regiment of secret police ever could.
When you sign on the dotted line for a thirty year
mortgage on an expensive house and a five year loan on a fancy car, you
just put the shackles on, and it's going to be a long time before you
have enough freedom chips to once again be free. You know exactly what
you are going to be doing in the foreseeable future, maybe even for the
next thirty years.
Without realizing it, young people often make choices
that last a lifetime. Those who exercise their freedom to engage in
promiscuous behavior and inject drugs often find themselves shackled to
hepatitis B and AIDS, their new and unwanted life long companions who
will not and cannot go away. It's unfortunate that God didn't install a
freedom meter in the middle of their forehead, so they could take a
look in the mirror to check out the long term consequences of the
choices they make.
During most of my adult life, I have placed a high
value upon maintaining my personal freedom to the greatest extent
possible. Nevertheless, most of the time, the choices I have made have
limited my freedom to a significant degree. There's not a lot of
freedom when you spend four years in college, four years in medical
school, five years in internship, residency, and fellowship training
that made me into a board certified ophthalmologist, and retina and
vitreous surgeon. That's thirteen years shackled to the study carrel in
the library, the emergency room, the operating theatre, and all that has
to happen before I could put up my shingle and practice medicine
independently in the real world. Add to that the responsibility of
raising a family and paying for their education all the way through
university. That's why I didn't dispose of my scalpel or take down my
shingle until I was forty-seven years old.
So what did I do to keep from going crazy in my world
of limited freedom?
First, I chose to work overseas in international
medicine. This single choice opened the floodgates of freedom, the
likes of which haven't been seen in the United States for fifty years.
Overseas, doctors are still held in high esteem, and I was able to
practice my craft unencumbered by the dead weight of Medicare, insurance
companies, and a legal system running amok. When I worked overseas, my
job was to help people. Period. Not to fill out Medicare forms. Not to
argue with insurance companies for reimbursement. Not to practice
defensive medicine because I needed to cover my buns. My patients knew
beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was their advocate, and I would move
heaven and earth to do everything humanly possible to fix their detached
retina, to restore lost vision. They trusted in God, and they trusted
in me, and rightly so. If you can't trust your doctor and hand him your
burdens, then you need to visit another physician. Practicing medicine
in the third world was an extremely demanding but very liberating
experience, and if I had to do it over again, I would do the same
thing. Freedom to practice your craft in an unencumbered manner is
worth its weight in gold.
Second, even though I lived and worked for sixteen
years in Saudi Arabia, I had more personal freedom in Arabia than in any
place I have lived in the world. The reason is simple. In Arabia, I
lived in a parallel universe in which none of the rules affecting the
Saudis applied to me. At the same time, the long arm of my own culture
didn't reach across the sea and control my daily life. I had the
freedom to be myself and live my life how I pleased as long as I showed
up for work on time and practiced my profession with integrity.
Everyone who has been an expatriate in Arabia knows what I am talking
about, and that's why so many of them worked there for such a long
time. The parallel universe can be a wonderful place to invest your
Third, the Arabian desert was one of the last places
on planet earth where you could do expeditionary travel without fear of
running over landmines or getting caught in a crossfire in a civil war.
Arabia was peaceful, and you could get in your Land Rover Defender and
drive off-road for 500 kilometers in any direction once you were outside
Riyadh, and no one cared where you went. They didn't even stop you at
checkpoints. They simply motioned you and your Land Rovers through the
checkpoints, because the authorities knew you were not a threat; you
were just going into the desert to have the adventure of a lifetime.
There is no place on planet earth that was safer or more accessible to
people who wanted to drive off-road. The Empty Quarter is the biggest
sandbox in the world with sand dunes hundreds of feet high, and we spent
weeks each year exploring this sandy playground.
Fourth, I saved freedom chips. Each year that I
lived in the magic kingdom, I saved up more freedom chips, so that one
day I could buy a freedom machine, a catamaran, that I would sail
around the world.
Fifth, I chose to live the unencumbered life. That
means I kept my infrastructure to a minimum whenever possible. I have
only owned one house, but I have owned five Land Rover Defenders.
Finally, freedom is just a thought away. You can't
be free until you learn to think thoughts that result in freedom. You
must think and act freedom into your life.
When I sit behind the wheel of my Land Rover
Defenders, I can feel the freedom start to bubble up in my mind. And
when I look at Exit Only anchored in paradise, I thank God that I live
in a place and time in which I have the freedom to sail on the ocean of