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Freedom is a psychological matter, why do we fear to accept it as individual responsibility?

Freedom is about the degree of the development of individuals' independent thinking. It is about internalizing that, as rational beings, we have the psychological strength and capacity to safeguard our freedom. Losing our independent thinking would mean we always scapegoat our failures to external factors, writes Kibrom Berhane.

In the history of this country, Ethiopians have had sound reasons to fight for freedom. During the imperial times, among many reasons, freedom was about dismantling harsh class-based divisions. During the military government, freedom was primarily about ousting the heartless government. In the past four or five years, people’s rebelliousness against malpractices of the government had been an important reason for the pursuit of freedom. These instances partly indicate that in our history, the quest for freedom usually takes place through the fight between the suppressed and the suppressor(s); between us (as a society) and a certain external body/enemy.   

Since the past many decades the rhetoric of our so-called freedom fighters too indicates that they are fighting to liberate us from physical coercion or suppressors. They almost always tell us that we are repressed by certain (imagined or real) groups. Hence, our longing for freedom is rooted to be free from (physical) repressions.

From now onwards, however, we have to fight to liberate ourselves from our own psychological shackles. I believe that our failure to develop the wisdom of reflexivity – the ability to introspect our daily routines would eliminate the prevue of freedom we have seen in recent times. Failing to safeguard our freedom in a peaceful and responsible manner would have devastating consequences.

For the past many years we have been blaming the government for its tyrannous leadership. We unequivocally blamed the government for its divisive policies against our unity. Now we have the government that acknowledges its failures. We have government officials, particularly the Prime Minister, who asked for an apology for all wrongdoings.

Paradoxically, however, while the government avowedly abandoned the allegedly divisive political rhetoric and changed its view to the recitation of unity and Ethiopian-ness, the common people employ all the techniques which they had been condemning of the government for using them to excrete Ethiopian-ness.

Hence, what will be some of the reasons behind our fear of accepting freedom as individual responsibility? Is that because we are not psychologically prepared for it?

The pervasiveness of hate speeches on different media platforms and the barbaric killings in some parts of the country indicate that most people seem to believe that freedom is only about fighting against certain groups. The different ethnic, political, religious, and other groups in our country externalize their loss of freedom to the actions of other groups rather than asking themselves about their roles in it. Based on this, one can argue that the attitude of most people tightened to the belief that freedom is about fighting an assumed (physical) enemy.

However, I believe that the enemy of our freedom is our own mind. A true emancipation, in my perspective, is not only about liberating ourselves from any external challenges. It is about defying the psychological barriers which might deter us to accept that all human beings do have the right to live and we have responsibilities to fortify that. The lack of interest to accept such personal responsibilities, which are essential for the engenderment of freedom, indicates individuals and societal immaturity to protect human dignity. Most importantly, refusing to own our personal responsibilities is one of the indicators of the fear of freedom. And, that is why freedom is a psychological/spiritual aspect. For instance, as human beings, we have a longing for freedom. At the same time, as Ethiopians, we scared of accepting it as a personal responsibility of keeping the security of anyone.

When they get the chance to exercise their freedom, most people usually prefer to rise above and crush others that they think were (or are) their enemies. This might mean, as a society, we fail to understand that freedom is the outcome of our actions that we incur to protect humanity.

The recurring violent conflicts in our country symbolize that the essence of our freedom as a society seems to be overridden by our lust for power. The brutalities against citizens in different parts of the country do not prove the attackers’ need for freedom and avoiding tyranny. They are sheer signs of their desire for power to form another tyrannical leadership(s).

In my understanding, freedom is about the degree of the development of individuals' independent thinking. It is about internalizing that, as rational beings, we have the psychological strength and capacity to safeguard our freedom. Losing our independent thinking would mean we always scapegoat our failures to external factors. For instance, currently, there are a lot of so-called freedom fighters and activists. As their discourses indicate, almost all of them pledge to fight ‘enemies’ they believe threatens the rights of their respective groups. This clearly tells us that, as a nation, we are obsessed with the belief that our freedom is in the hands of others; hence, we have to form groups to fight against allegedly suppressive groups. Surprisingly, most people want to fight against others for their freedom by being unduly submissive to their so-called freedom fighters.

Thus, I think, among other reasons, our communal thinking burdened us with the fear of freedom as an individual responsibility. It seems that we do not believe individuals do have immense power to secure their own freedoms. Perhaps, due to our communality (i.e. being a communal society), as individuals, freedom is too heavy for us to bear. Thus, we always try to attach ourselves to a certain group or ‘freedom fighters’ to fight for us. We seek to secure freedom by marching as a crowd. Other things being the same, it is my conviction that as human beings we have an innate desire for freedom. In our socio-cultural context, however, our innate desire for freedom appears to be superseded by our instinct to submit for the so-called freedom fighters or ethnic groups. We love to be part of a crowd and immerse ourselves in groupthink rather than critically thinking about our individual responsibilities. This is because grouping oneself in a crowd is the easiest way to avoid individual responsibilities. Hence, as a society, I believe, we have this chronic problem – the fear of accepting freedom as an individual responsibility.

Ed.’s Note:  Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Kibrom Berhane
Contributed by Kibrom Berhane