What does FREEDOM mean to You?

Is there a gap between "what is" and "what could be"?

I published this post this summer just before the U.S.A. celebrated Independence Day!  

  • I am republishing now because January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  Human Trafficking is modern-day slavery and it is the fastest growing crime in the world.
  •  And January is also the month that we honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr. for all of the work he did to bring freedom to others.

As a U.S. Citizen, I grew up being very proud of:

  • My country – where people came to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  • My family – who left everything behind in their countries of origin because of oppression and poverty and came to the U.S. to pursue those ideals.

And even prouder of:  My relatives and friends that served to defend the freedom of others.

Moving to the big sandbox we live in now took lots of prayer and courage because many of the freedoms I always cherished don’t exist here.  …But we came believing that we were supposed to seek to understand and to learn.

We weren’t here very long when a neighbor challenged me to consider that Americans don’t have a corner on the market on freedom.  I accepted her challenge and have been listening and experiencing for a little more than two years. And although we don’t have it all figured out yet, this is a bit of what we are learning…

A few weeks ago I had coffee with a woman that was born in Italy and lived there until she was a teenager and then moved to Canada. She has traveled all over the world and has spent the last three years in the same sandbox we are in.

  • When I asked her what freedom meant to her BEFORE she moved her she said, “It was important.”
  • When I asked her what it means to her NOW she said, “It is essential to my well-being.”

Her answers sent me on a quest. So I asked friends that have all lived in at least two countries to share what freedom means to them.

  • The responses below come from women from Pakistan, Germany, Senegal, Australia, India, and Czechoslovakia.
  • And they’ve lived in France, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi, Bangkok, Brazil, Libya and The United States. (One was even evacuated during a civil war.)

Before you read their responses, grab a pencil and write down how you expect people who have lived in these countries to explain what freedom means to them…


Here’s what they said:

~Freedom mean to me is safety. If we have some strict obligations which some people think clash with freedom will not be harmful for me. Freedom of expression is more important for me. Which is restricted for women in Pakistan society.iStock_000012849949XSmall

~Freedom is not having to watch your back constantly & being able to express ALL your thoughts without worrying.

~Freedom is for me not worrying for crime or danger and also expressing your thoughts. Having some restrictions doesn’t mean not being free. But Freedom is also important in the smaller environment. When you are free and allowed to do the things you like. Freedom can be taken not only from the government it also can be taken from à family member.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. Nelson Mandela

~Growing up in Australia and not traveling too much freedom was something I took for granted. Now living here experiencing this culture and learning of others, freedom is something I will never take for granted again!! I don’t feel as if I have lost my freedom here, it was my choice to come here, it wasn’t taken from me, at the same time though on holidays and when we visit home I love to feel free and be me.

Make The Leap

~What freedom means to me is being able to do many things without being forced and to be independent to take a stride in my life. My thoughts should not be controlled by someone, marriage was not my priority but single woman in our society has not a great life their freedom will be constantly watched and then you feel that you need a man to support you and that never lets you grow as an independent person. When I don’t have freedom I can’t do anything except what society tells me to do.   I want to embrace freedom as the caged bird does after it escapes from the cage and breathes the fresh air.   Freedom for me is growth of my own self without the world objecting me.


Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves. Abraham Lincoln

~Being able to express thoughts and ideas without fearing others reaction. Being able to decide on my personal issues without prior discussion with family members. Freedom for me is also what was mentioned above regarding looking back. Living here didn’t really take my freedom. It’s more of what happened in my life since I came here. Freedom for me is also financial independence. I never knew what I had when I was home, I had it all but now living expat life with family made me realize what I lost and on the other side gained, being able to go back home and breathe and be me again is another part of my freedom.

Did any answers surprise you?  What common themes stand out to you?  What answers are causing you to think deeply?

As I read through their responses – safety and freedom of speech stood out.  And then it went deeper emphasizing freedom of movement, to marry or not, to have financial independence and that freedom can be given or taken by a government, a family member or an outsider.

And then the popcorn in my brain started popping:

  • From the things I can’t do in the country that I live in that I could do in the U.S.
  • To a friend that grew up in a communist country that occasionally and secretly attended an underground church.
  • To the things that some people can’t do no matter where they live because of a controlling family member or an evil stranger that has trafficked them.
  • To the freedoms I assume that people have in the U.S. like safety and freedom of speech – and the examples in the news that remind us that we still have work to do.
  • To my husband’s simple but powerful answer about what freedom means to him, “Freedom is in your head – it’s how you look at things.”

My experiences here have increased my appreciation of freedom, and my desire for others to experience it to the full, while teaching me that no matter where we are we can choose to develop strong minds that help us find peace in the most oppressive circumstances.

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. Viktor Frankl

Last night a friend posted some news about a hate-group that is meeting to spread their venom in The U.S.  – which led to a discussion about the gap between the vision of freedom in our county and the reality for many.

Giana Consulting | VisionI shared these thoughts in that discussion:  Jesse Lyn Stoner is a vision expert and co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard called Full Steam Ahead. This is a quote from that book: “…It’s not enough to just have a vision. As your vision becomes clear you have to look at your current reality and take stock. You have to maintain your focus on your vision and at the same time, without blaming yourself or anyone else, be honest about the truth of your present reality. Vision without being present is like having your head in the clouds. Holding the present without vision is like being stuck in the mud.

The moment we think we have achieved our vision, we are in danger of resting, becoming complacent and going backwards. (Much like winning sports teams and nations that have risen and then fallen.)

What would it take:

  • For the vision of freedom to become the rallying cry of our nation and our world?
  • For more of us to have the wisdom and courage to hear, see and speak truth about our present reality? (Without blame.)
  • To develop the commitment and stamina to consistently move towards that vision?

Image Credits:  iStock & Vacation

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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5 thoughts on “What does FREEDOM mean to You?

  1. Fabulous post Chery … and very thought provoking. I’m with Victor Frankl ~ freedom means I get to choose my attitude in any given set of circumstances! It also means I live without fear of oppression – of any kind!

    Thank you also for your kind email. I have replied and look forward to catching up in a Hangout on your return from your trip!

    Kind regards

    John 🙂

  2. The concept of freedom is a nice one. So’s the concept of freedom of speech. The problem with each is that there are levels of conscious thought and understanding the consequences of wanting each that many people aren’t ready to embrace that messes everything up.

    For instance, as a black man in America I feel this great sense of freedom… until the police show up. Since I’m older the impact means little to me now, but when I was younger I didn’t trust the police, not so much because they were police as much as they were a fraternity and I didn’t trust anyone who could be influenced by fraternal beliefs. Those folks never believe in freedom; it’s just words to them.

    As it applies to speech, everyone in America knows there are things you can’t say in certain places and situations because it could and often does cause a panic. Thus, we know there needs to be responsibility here and there when one says certain things. Also, freedom of speech goes both ways. Most of the time people screaming for freedom of speech want it only for themselves, not their detractors, and falling back on the line of “I should have the right to express myself” doesn’t hold water because others are thinking the same thing.

    I’m not saying these aren’t great things to have, and shouldn’t be what life should be all about. I’m pointing out the reality that freedom and freedom of speech are not only things to fight for, but to handle with care. At least that’s how I see it. 🙂

    • Hi Mitch,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I apologize for my delayed response – just returned from a long-awaited vacation.

      I think many people are just waking up to the gap that has existed between the dream for our nation and the reality for many. (And how we’ve contribute to that gap.) I’d love to hear your thoughts about thisTED Talk from a Police Officer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_29TS6jjsA&feature=youtu.be

      I agree that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consideration, or ownership of our behavior and that we must handle that freedom with deep appreciation and great care!