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More On Freedom (the cud-chewing continues)

Hm... On my previous post on Freedom, Cameron Souza left a comment the end that got me thinking more on this topic, and about why it is on my mind lately.

About 3 weeks ago, I was browsing a post on security guru Bruce Schneier's blog on the topic of Economic Distress and Fear. This is actually a discussion spurred by a quote from Irish novelist Tana French, which I will dare to reproduce here:

Part of the debtor mentality is a constant, frantically suppressed undercurrent of terror. We have one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world, and apparently most of us are two paychecks from the street. Those in power -- governments, employers -- exploit this, to great effect. Frightened people are obedient -- not just physically, but intellectually and emotionally. If your employer tells you to work overtime, and you know that refusing could jeopardize everything you have, then not only do you work the overtime, but you convince yourself that you're doing it voluntarily, out of loyalty to the company; because the alternative is to acknowledge that you are living in terror. Before you know it, you've persuaded yourself that you have a profound emotional attachment to some vast multinational corporation: you've indentured not just your working hours, but your entire thought process. The only people who are capable of either unfettered action or unfettered thought are those who -- either because they're heroically brave, or because they're insane, or because they know themselves to be safe -- are free from fear.

--- from The Likeness, by Tana French.

Undoubtedly, the present global economic situation is bringing a lot of fear to the workplace, irrespective of where you may live. The headlines in the paper every day paint a rather bleak picture here in Japan, and ditto for the news I get from Yahoo and Google for the States.

And yet, even while I strongly suspect the situation at my present company might not be very good. and that my own position and livelihood could be in a tenuous situation, I somehow don't feel all that negative. Denial? Naiveté? Incurable optimism?

Why should anyone feel frightened about their job situation? I certainly don't want to fool myself about a false sense of loyalty to a paycheck, especially since I know that chasing a salary will never amount to anything real. I recall, again, reading The Joys of the Craft, early on in Chapter 1 of Brooks' The Mythical Man Month. Yes, I code for money, but there is the sheer joy of making things, of making useful things, of creating castles in the air from exertion of my imagination.

I love my coding, and even if my job were to disappear, I would return to coding something else, somewhere else. I want to continue creating castles out of thin air. I don't know if I am heroic enough, or insane enough, to be capable of unfettered thought or action.

But wouldn't it be nice to be free from fear?

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Comment by Daniel Leuck on February 2, 2009 at 5:53pm
That is a great quote from French. At times like this I think of a quote my mother hung over my bed when I was a kid. Its based on a prayer written by St. Francis of Assisi, but I believe its wisdom is universal: "Have the wisdom to know the difference between what you can and cannot change, and the will to act accordingly." The best way to conquer fear and achieve freedom, in so much as anyone is truly free, is to identify what you can change for the better and take action. Of almost equal importance is not fretting about things over which you have no control such as macroeconomic trends. Its simply wasted energy. There are opportunities all around us, even in a bad economy. Sometimes there are even opportunities because of a bad economy.

When the economy takes a downturn it also makes us concentrate on the basics, and what truly matters in life. For me this boils down to two questions - A) Am I contributing to the happiness and well being of those around me? and B) Am I happy?


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