Oppression is intrinsic to mankind; as compelling a force as rebellion.
The desire to oppress and the impulse to rebel against it go together, like the two sides of a coin. Whatever its scale- family, community or nation- the core is the same. When an individual or a group wishes to gain advantage at the expense of another, the stage is set for oppression.
Oppression can also be perpetrated by circumstances, by natural calamities. There is no advantage to be gained but that doesn’t make the burden of the oppressed any lighter. The oppression of nature’s vagaries is aggravated because it denies its victim the relief of directing his ire to a human target. You can blame God, but as everyone knows, that leaves you feeling even more helpless than before.
Ideally of course, one would prefer that oppressors would have some sense knocked into their heads and that nature would stop throwing her unpredictable tantrums. Nothing could be pleasanter than for the world to clean up its act and leave the rest of us to live in uninterrupted freedom. But pigs will never fly.
All of us have grappled with oppression at some time or the other. Something or someone has taken away our freedom to think and act as we wish. We have felt victimized and helpless. Hope has ebbed low and strength has been depleted.
Compulsions unleashed on us by people or circumstances more powerful than us do manage to subjugate us- even if it is only temporary. In that state, the biggest source of disempowerment is not the outward subjugation, it is the silent giving up within. For the world out there you may have a cast iron alibi for knuckling down under the compulsion, but the judge and jury that reins within is not fooled by your alibis. It accuses you, not for wearing chains on your body- which it knows you cannot help- but of wearing them on your soul.
A man may accept the power of circumstances to alter his course and to silence the voice of his soul, as a temporary evil to be thrown off at the first opportunity. But when he accepts his chains as a permanent state beyond his capacity to rebel against, he loses the last of his freedom. To accept defeat INSIDE is to chain your soul voluntarily.
William Wallace was a Scotsman who led the Scottish struggle against the English in the 14th century. A movie was made on the life of William Wallace. Wallace gives a speech to rally his supporters who were on the verge of giving up the fight. (The clip can be seen below).
The turning point in the speech happens when Wallace shows the men the regret their inner jury will sentence them to if they chose to run away. To run away from a battle which was theirs to fight, was to internalize the defeat. Choosing to let external circumstance take away the last human freedom, to betray the voice of your soul, is the worst punishment a man can inflict on himself.
In his autobiographical Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl wrote:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
True freedom is the freedom to choose your attitude even in adverse circumstances. To retain a sense of inner balance and poise even when your outer world is shaky and dis-balanced, is to be truly free. It is up to you to choose your attitude. People will let you down, circumstances will turn adverse when you least expect it and power will go out in the middle of your stirring speech. It will. What of it?
You can choose to take it as a malevolent universe’s attempt to ruin your happiness, or you can shrug your shoulders and be happy anyway.
Question: What needs to happen to make you happy..?
Answer: Nothing needs to happen to make me happy. I am happy by default. My happiness is not controlled by anything external to me. It is an internal state. It flows from inside to outside, not the other way round.
That thought, is freedom.
Published in Fried Eye