THE COLUMN

Issue No. 72/June 29, 1996


UNALIENABLE RIGHTS

IVAN HOFFMAN

As we approach July 4, it is perhaps a good thing to reflect upon what Thomas Jefferson wrote, in the days when gender references were one-dimensional:
We hold these truths to be self-evident,--that all men [sic] are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"Unalienable" means that these rights cannot be surrendered or transferred. But as the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau said, about the same time and with the same narrow focus:
"Man [sic] is born free and yet everywhere he is in chains."
We do surrender these rights. We do transfer them. We do give away our powers to others, even as we bemoan the power they then exert over us. We give away our power to lovers. To spouses. To employers. To that which we call "the system." It upsets us. It disempowers us. But it also serves us. We have, in those to whom we give away our unalienable rights, someone to blame for our sad state. We give away our power out of fear of retaining it for ourselves. For having power over ourselves is scary stuff indeed for many. It means we must be responsible for our own lives and that is not something we want.

We are born connected to the universe. We are free when we are created. We then go about enslaving ourselves with our fears. The ideas we create for ourselves during our lifetime form the basis for these fears. We continue these fears as we move through our lives, living them repeatedly despite the lack of relevance they then have. We live our childhood version of the world as adults. We enslave ourselves with bad relationships, better to prove to ourselves that we do not deserve to have loving ones. We chain ourselves to the desk of a bad job because we do not believe ourselves to be worthy of doing work we love to do. We impoverish our lives so that we may be correct in our childhood belief that we should not be wealthy.

We find many reasons not to become the persons we might become. We are created with unlimited power and potential and yet we create an image of ourselves that is far less than the universe intends for us. We complain about our plight as though someone else were responsible for it. There is no one that is responsible for us except us-not parents, not King Louis XVI nor George III of England. We are responsible for ourselves. But it is that very idea, the idea of responsibility, that so frightens us that it empowers us to divest ourselves of our power.

Nothing about ourselves, our learning, our experience, has ever taught us to be free. We have no training in freedom. We believe that we are not deserving of freedom in its many forms.

The paradox may be that, in order that we have enough power to break away from that which we imagine is holding us back we must initially hold ourselves back. We must get to the point where the pain of disempowerment is sufficiently great that we may be willing to become free. We say we want to be free from these shackles but it is not clear that what we say we want is what we really want. Or are willing to give ourselves the power to have.

In doing all this, we deny ourselves the rights that the universe gave us--the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We may be living but we deny ourselves life. We may seem free but we are not at liberty. We may surround ourselves with the trappings of the pursuit of happiness but we are not happy. We believe that to be free, to be able to be who we are, find our hearts, find love and prosperity, is an alien concept. "Alien" here means belonging to another, foreign. We feel these rights are alien to us because we do not deserve to have them.

It is not the way of the universe for us to be slaves, to others or to our selves. It is the way of the universe for each of us, in our own time, to become free, enlightened. We must be willing to undergo a revolutionary change if we are to enjoy these freedoms.

Life. Liberty. The pursuit of Happiness. And love. I might add love to the list.

These are not alien concepts. They are unalienable rights.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman


FOR A RELATED SPIN ON THESE IDEAS, SEE THE ARTICLE

"DIRTY PICTURES."

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