One of my colleagues recently left her long term residence in China and is now living in a country that is currently much less restrictive than what she knew in China. She speaks about the fresh breeze of freedom that now swirls around her. I wonder what this fresh breeze must feel like for her. Just as important, I wonder what this breeze feels like for me, when I encounter it. It is important to pose this question for me (as well as for her) because I find this breeze to be blowing less frequently for me today and it might be blowing less frequently for my colleague and many other people living in all parts of the world as country after country (including my own) are lurching and crawling toward authoritarianism.
This reflection on freedom is very timely—for I have just finished editing an issue of The Future of Professional Psychology (to be found on this website) that focuses on the Psychology of Political Behavior. I am also in the midst of finishing a book on freedom and collaborating with a colleague on a book that clearly relates to the matter of freedom. This new collaborative venture focuses on the contemporary crisis of expertise and its connection to authoritarianism.
I want to reflect specifically on the breeze of freedom – rather than on the features and forces of freedom as a hurricane that have changed the entire course of history in many parts of the world. I provided a portrait of freedom as a hurricane in a book called Freedom that I co-authored with Berne Weiss (Bergquist and Weiss, 1994). We were both either living or working in Eastern Europe during the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the title implies, this book concerned the experience of new-found freedom among the citizens of two countries: Estonia and Hungary.
As a breeze (and not the wind nor a hurricane), the experience of Freedom can be quite gentle. It often is not even detected by me until much later when I am reflecting on decisions I have made or actions I have taken. As a breeze, Freedom is often swirling about. It is coming from changing directions and is neither constant nor predictable. I have written elsewhere about VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and have expanded on VUCA (VUCA-Plus) by adding turbulence and contradiction (Bergquist, 2020). Each of these six conditions can contribute to a breezy sense of freedom. By the way, each of these conditions can also contribute to one’s attempt to escape from freedom to authoritarianism.
I wish to attend specifically to this breezy change in the direction of freedom. At times the breeze is blowing into my face. At other times, the breeze of freedom is coming from my backside or even from beneath me (swirling upward). Freedom looks and feels quite different when the breeze is coming from these three different directions. I turn to consideration of freedom’s breezy experience(s) from each direction.