How Free Do You Feel?

Our relationships expert, Dr. Janet Taylor, reflects on the true meaning of a simple word.

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Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four and a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

The fireworks are long gone. But even with the Fourth of July a distant memory, there have been plenty of news stories over the past few weeks to make us contemplate what it means to have freedom in this country. And I mean all types of freedom: freedom to marry across gender and ethnic lines, to have health insurance, to worship, to carry a gun or not, to love freely, to have fair and equitable housing, to have access to education and to even say what’s on your mind—no matter however offensive it may be. Freedom in the doing. It’s powerful stuff.

But it’s important to take things a step further. To go beyond the inalienable rights being Americans bestows upon us and contemplate what it really means to be free. To have a free soul and spirit, an open heart and mind.

Perhaps another way to define freedom is in the ability to find hope in unforeseen places. Whether it’s an unspeakable tragedy or an unimaginable utterance of forgiveness, one’s view is a condition of one’s freedom of being. Being able to view the world from a singular lens of simply wanting to make it a better place. Frederick Douglass, the great orator, abolitionist and former slave, once gave a speech in which he spoke of the hypocrisy of a nation in which God  "hath commanded all men, everywhere, to love one another; yet you notoriously hate (and glory in your hatred) all men whose skins are not colored like your own.” The speech, however, ended on a note of hope as he recited a poem that includes these lines: "That day will come all feuds to end, And change into a faithful friend, Each foe."

Recently, President Barack Obama said that “justice grows out of the recognition of ourselves in each other” and maybe that’s the greatest meaning of true freedom. The freedom that emerges from within our hearts has the potential to connect us.