During the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to work in the country of Estonia when the Soviet Union was collapsing. I continued to work in Estonia during the years when the citizens of this former-Soviet country found themselves faced with opportunities and challenges associated with new forms of freedom in their personal and collective lives. Along with my colleague, Berne Weiss (who was similarly spending time in the country of Hungary, as its citizens were similarly facing the opportunities and challenges of freedom), I wrote a book called Freedom: Narratives of Change in Hungary and Estonia. Published by Jossey-Bass, this book did not sell many copies—yet of the 50 plus books I have written, this is the one of which, in many ways, I am most proud.
In this essay, and several others I will be preparing under the auspices of the Freedom Project at The Professional School of Psychology, I re-engage observations I made about my work and life in Estonia and the narratives Estonians shared with me in preparation for the book. Throughout these essays, I am guided by and make extensive use of the wisdom provided by Erich Fromm regarding his own unique perspectives on freedom. He offered these perspectives in a series of books written over a period of more than 30 years. I have invited several of our doctoral students from around the world to offer their own insights about and experiences with Freedom. Their essays are being published in this library. The issue of freedom is certainly of great importance right now in our troubled and changing world. The insights gained from my Estonian colleagues still seem quite poignant and timely. It is in recognition of these insights that I offer this set of essays.
Freedom: An Existential Decision
This is our true state; which makes us incapable both of certain knowledge and of absolute ignorance, We sail on a vast expanse. always drifting in uncertainty, and carried hither and thither: If there is any point to which we think we can attach ourselves, to steady our position. it shifts and leaves us: if we pursue it. it escapes our grasp, slides past us, and vanishes on its eternal course. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition. and yet most contrary to our wishes: we burn with desire to find firm ground, and a final fixed foundation on which we can build a tower to rise to infinity. But our foundation cracks. and the earth opens upon abysses.
– Blaise Pascal. Pensies