The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The New Freedom: Living with Hope, Skepticism and Irony

The quite justifiable critique of Soviet officials and ideologues regarding the negative aspects of religious institutions remained intact even after the collapse of the Soviet government. One of the citizens we interviewed provided the following comment:

Cults were the subject of a panel discussion and forum for a group I was attending. This group met monthly to discuss significant public issues. As with many such discussions of emotionally charged subjects, the outcome was inconclusive. Should the state control religious groups? How can people protect impressionable spiritually curious young people from cults? Where are people to look for guidance on their spiritual path? A young man who attended the meeting with his wife, expressed dissatisfaction. He had gotten no clear-cut message of what to believe. No decision was reached. There were no agreed-upon answers to the questions, and everyone was simply left to contemplate them.

In that moment, it seemed that one of the more difficult tasks imposed by the new circumstances was cultivating a tolerance for ambiguity. Citizens now had to begin making their own choices about complex and often elusive belief systems. They no longer lived in a world of dualism (right and wrong, truth and false)—either accepting or rejecting the dictates of their government officials. These men and women were now sailing on a storming sea of conflicting perspectives and belief-systems—sailing without a rudder and with no anchor. Life was indeed filled with existential angst: perhaps it is best to become a skeptical and perhaps alienated secularist: living without a firm foundation of beliefs and often being just as opportunistic as the manipulative cult leaders. Have the citizens of either Estonia or Hungary learned how to navigate this stormy sea of choice – and are any of us doing a much better job during the challenging years of our complex, unpredictable and turbulent 21st Century? How are we doing with the irony and contradictions that pervade our own societies and cultures?

Freedom of Movement

Concrete manifestations of restrictions—namely, physical barriers—were destroyed when the Soviet Union fell. These barrier collapses were some of the most dramatic and concrete manifestations of new-found freedom. Many “Berlin walls” were toppled literally or figuratively. Citizens of both Estonia and Hungary could now move freely around their own countries and travel to other countries. As one of our interviewees noted:

Freedom for me means borderlessness, being able to come in and talk to people who live a thousand miles away from here. This is a practical translation of what freedom means to me. Talking with my Cuban friends, with my American friends, with my Swedish friends.

Even more simply, citizens can now move freely through their own cities and towns. For instance, for the first time in forty years, the men, women, and children of Tallinn, Estonia, could boat on the ocean by their city. Estonians could travel upon the ocean that virtually three-quarters of them saw and smelled every day of their lives—this was a very big deal. The fences and watchtowers had been torn down, and the guards left the beaches and docks of Tallinn, allowing its citizens to resume their accustomed vocations or avocations of fishing, swimming, and boating. This was a simple but powerful statement of freedom.

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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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