“Even though I’m out, I can’t seem to make my own decisions. Six years of someone else telling me what to do, where to go, how to act, and now I can’t seem to move ahead in my life, and do what I need to do for myself.”
“It’s like I’m still in prison. I’m still behind the walls,” my young friend told me, as we were deep in conversation about his life and where he was headed.
Yet, aren’t we all still behind the walls, the walls we make ourselves? Don’t each of us have that fear of moving ahead, and taking on our hard issues, and that tough challenge of having our own walls to climb over?
Life has a way of moving along, and we don’t often see ourselves in control of the directions we are taking, or our ability to find our own path. Our jobs, our families, our friends all seem to be the movers and the guides in our life that are shaping our daily lives, and where we are headed.
I like to think that I’m purposeful in what I do, and what my action plan is for the day, the week, maybe even the year. But, my daily routine and my usual “to do” list means the day has a lot of routines, and I end up responding to other people’s agendas more than my own, long term, “what is good for me” list.
And, often, other people’s expectations of me can soon turn into my own prison walls. Just playing follow the leader and letting other people’s plans and needs fill my day becomes pretty easy, and pretty comforting. I don’t have to think much, at least the thinking I should be doing about where I’m going in life, and who I want to become, and the dreams I want to realize and achieve.
I let the walls get built up, and I get comfortable with that, instead of speaking up for myself, and finding that voice inside of me that talks about my dreams and my goals.
Some philosophers would say that each one of us is living life in the prisons we’ve built ourselves, too afraid of taking charge, and finding the ladder to climb over the walls, or to search out the key to the lock to the gate.
I think I’m free, free to go outside and smell the fresh air, and walk down the road, or meet a friend for lunch, or mull over an idea and speak my peace about a hot topic. Yet, my daily routine and my well worn path in the road of life is pretty comfortable if I let others do the thinking and gently prodding me into going along with the plan for the day.
After all, it is easier to just nod my head and grunt an “uh, huh” when someone pontificates an idea that my heart is telling me needs to be challenged, needs to be explored at some length. That would take some work, and I might offend the other guy, and end up getting deep into a serious and thought provoking debate. And, I might actually learn something and find some flaws in my own thinking. I may even have to take some action, and get out of my routine.
Or, not. Just let their thought slide by, and I go along with the flow.
“Don’t rock the boat,” my grandmother used to say.
Yet, I recall she was pretty opinionated, and wasn’t shy about challenging some popular ideas and politics in her day. She wasn’t a model prisoner inside the walls society had built in her day, and she was good at teaching me to think outside the box and not take the usual way out of a dilemma by simply going along with the flow, and not rocking the boat.
A few weeks ago, I listened to Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian social activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She was a young medical student when a civil war broke out in her country, devastating her family and community, and halting her promising medical career. She wanted to break down the walls that kept her country from seeing an alternative to war, terror, and lack of opportunity for women and children.
She didn’t have an army, and she didn’t have money or power. “But, I had my voice,” she said. ‘And I used it. I spoke up, every chance I got.”
She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she wouldn’t let any walls, any thinking that social change was impossible, get in her way. She told the stories of the women and children in her country, and she talked about non violence and civil disobedience. She challenged and she provoked, and she taught and she argued.
She used her voice and moved her country towards peace. She made people think, and pushed people out of their ruts, helping them find the keys to their own prison gates, and to find their freedom and their true destiny.
Leymah Gbowee didn’t start down that road with the idea that she’d win the Nobel Peace Prize someday. She simply wanted her country to be at peace, and for her family and neighbors to be done with war, and to live in peace. She spoke up, using the only tool she had, her voice.
My young friend is finding his voice, and I see a lot of other people finding their voices, and finding the keys to their own prison gates. Folks are moving out into freedom, out into the sunshine outside of their own prison walls.
Neal Lemery, May 14, 2014