Posted by: dacalu | 15 December 2017

Paradoxical Freedom

I love doors. Strange, but true. Have you ever taken a close look at the mechanism behind a swinging door? They’re wonderfully elegant: two plates, one screwed to the wall and the other screwed to the door, joined by a pin. Remove the pin and you can remove the door. Otherwise, it’s firmly attached and – here’s the exciting part – they open and close, like a movable wall.

When you get a chance, look at a door from the middle ages. Without machined parts, they don’t balance as well or swing as freely.

The door hinge is an example of technology so simple and refined that we no longer think of it as technology. We take it for granted.

A door hinge is also an example of paradoxical freedom. A door lying on the floor has no freedom. It can only sit there. You can move it with effort, but only by lifting the full weight of wood, or awkwardly scraping it along the ground. A door on a hinge moves back and forth, almost effortlessly.

I’ll bet you’ve opened and closed so many doors today you would have trouble counting them.

Human freedom operates the same way.

We’ve become accustomed, in our age of individualism, to thinking of attachments as something that limits freedom. Often, they are. We can be shackled financially and socially as well as physically. Literal shackles use similar pin technology and are one of humanity’s more abused inventions. Attachments can be vile.


And some attachments bring greater freedom. A bungee jumper attaches herself to a bridge so she can jump off safely. A mountaineer attaches himself to a fellow climber and to the mountainside in case of a missed hold.

I spend most of my time connected. I like my communities, including the Episcopal Church and the United States Government because, by being attached, I have greater freedom. I can travel, knowing I have support. I can discuss and argue, knowing that others have agreed to some basic ground rules. I can depend on the basics of communication (language, roads, markets, …) so that I can go on to say and build what I want.

I want my autonomy. I like hinges whose pins I can remove and lines I can unclip. I’ll argue in church and government for the ability to opt in and opt out. Still, I spend most of my time connected.

I stay attached because it brings me greater freedom than being alone. Like a ship at anchor, sometimes I need something to hold me down when the winds of change blow too strongly.

[If you really like mechanical metaphors, check out helicopters, flybars, and gyroscopes. Sometimes the forces that need constraining are internal and subject to feedback loops and other complications. Constraints can save you from yourself as well.]

I’m not going to tell you which constraints are hinges and which are shackles. Each of us must figure that out on her own. In the case of church and state, I think we can all agree that there are aspects of both in each. But, give some thought to things that might be hinges in your life. What are they and how do they work?

And next time you open a door, find a little joy in paradoxical freedom.

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