The chains that set us free

David Brooks, an American writer, has reflected on some of the cultural lies he believes we are told.

One of the lies he names is this: ‘Keep your options open – and everything will be better.’

He writes that in adulthood, everyone is encouraged to go on a personal trip, rack up a multitude of experiences, ‘and whoever has the most experiences wins. This lie encourages people to believe freedom is the absence of restraint. Be unattached. Stay on the move. Keep your options open.’

Here is the butterfly, always on the run from one thing to another; passing through but never engaging deeply.

In reality, says Brooks, the people who live best and happiest tie themselves down.

‘They don’t ask: What cool thing can I do next? They ask: What is my responsibility here? They respond to some problem or get called out of themselves by a deep love.’

By planting themselves in one neighbourhood, one organization or one mission, they earn trust and deepen relationship. They have the freedom to make a lasting difference.

I’m put in mind of the sonnet, a restrictive poetic form – yet which gave us some of Shakespeare’s most liberating lines. 

‘It’s the chains we choose that set us free,’ says Brooks.

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