Freedom and consequence

What if you got everything you wanted? What if you were able to do all the things that you wanted to do? What if barriers were erased, consequences dismissed, costs discounted?

What would you do? What does it mean to be free?

I don’t think I want a world without consequences. I want what I do to have an effect, I want it to affect me, and to affect other people.

Trying to live in a world without barriers is a quest for the impossible. It is also a depressing endeavour. It suggests that we live in this atomised world that can only ever be a figment of our delusions. It would be a lonely life: I think it would be a life without much purpose. Because we live interlinked lives.

Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making about how the things that we do, the things that we create, change the horizon of the possible. By doing something we make certain things possible, but we also make other things near enough impossible. He uses the example of highways across the USA, they make travelling vast distances far easier, but they made travel by horse and carriage much harder.

Likewise, when I do something it has consequences, it changes things.

So when we try and live without consequences, when we try and make the most of this thing call freedom by throwing off restraints and doing whatever the heck pleases us in that moment we are caught in an infinite loop of impossibility. The things that we think will deliver the ultimate satisfaction in the end leaves us cold. They leave us in a lonely place because they have failed to deliver what they never had the power to provide.

Because with freedom comes consequences, and with consequences come responsibility. So we step back and we wait a moment before we embrace freedom for its own sake, or our own sake.

I write a lot for work, but when I write for work I write within certain parameters which restrict what I say and how I say it. In theory, when I write on this blog I can write about whatever I choose to, in whatever way I want. Except when I write something it has consequences. I could espouse views that would put my job on the line, even if I hid behind the ‘it’s a personal blog’ refrain. I could write in a way that would discredit my role or my employer, I could offend people I regularly work with. I have freedom to write what I like, but there are many things that would restrict my freedom were I to exercise said freedom in a careless way.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t write on controversial topics, or occasionally in a way that seeks to provoke a response. But what I choose to write about has consequences. When I write about dating and relationships, it changes the potentiality of any prospective relationships. I chose to say I disagree with Christian political parties, and maybe did so in an intemperate way, that has consequences.

Many of the best examples and stories come from those I am closest to, from my family and my friends. But if I were to write about these situations I would affect, and potentially damage my relationship with them. I had a couple of great examples I could have used in my previous post about women in church leadership, but they weren’t my stories, and it wasn’t my place to make them public.

A couple of weeks back I wrote about modesty with a few scattered thoughts about the challenges that guys, and girls, face in a world where sexuality is thrown around with abandon. And this question of freedom and responsibility is at the core of what we were talking about then. For girls who economise on the clothes they wear, there are consequences of that choice.

Here I’m making a slightly different point than I did in that previous post, and I’m very cautious about my choice of words. But guys will look at girls who are attractive and wearing clothes that make the most of that, and while this probably shouldn’t be the case, and it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the girl for what the guys look at, it is a consequence of that choice. So without excusing in any shape or form the leering looks or crude remarks guys might make, they are not detached from the choice that the girl has made in exercising her freedom to wear what she wants.

As I write this I’m conscious that I am exercising my freedom to write about a topic that I choose. And there may be consequences of that choice. Girls may think that I’m being a prude, encouraging them to cover up and spare a thought for the poor guys struggling with their beauty. While I’m content saying that there are consequences of the choice to wear certain clothes, I am far less confident to ascribe responsibility to the girl for the actions, because the way that guys respond is their responsibility, but that doesn’t mean it is unaffected by the choices that the girl has taken.

And the guys who look at the girls sunbathing on the grass? Well those looks have consequences too. It’s easy to think that a cheeky glance at the exposed skin on offer affects no one. But each time that you look, each time lust is stirred, each time you allow beauty to be read through a lens of sex you distort the way that you view women. And a counter intuitive consequence within the church is to adopt this mentality and to minimise an appreciation of beauty because we associate it with sex and with lust. So even in our mental thought processes about who we might be attracted to we view physical attraction as somehow wrong, and therefore look for more holy motives as ostensible reasons to justify our attraction.

Last night I read a fascinating first person piece in the Daily Mail (not a usual occurrence) from the former editor of Loaded magazine. After eight years dedicating his life to putting more bare breasts on pages than the competition he stepped away from that world, partly spurred by the birth of his son. He realised the consequences and ludicrous nature of what he had spent so much time and earned so much money doing.

When guys look at porn it doesn’t leave you unchanged. It affects the way that you look at women, it affects your expectation of relationships, it contorts and distorts the view of sex. And it makes you think you can have what you want without any of the baggage that comes with it. It promotes the idea of unattached satisfaction by pretending that is what it is providing. That it’s just you and your computer.

What a lie.

We live in an age with unprecedented freedom and an unenviable lack of accountability. I can do things if I want to and no one needs to know about them. But that doesn’t mean I should. And if I choose to use my freedom in ways that serve myself I shouldn’t be surprised to find that my freedom in fact becomes circumscribed. If my horizon of the possible suddenly becomes smaller.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, how do consequences affect how you act?

One thought on “Freedom and consequence

  1. I think this is a good and balanced approach. I think that both sexes like to point to the other one, attempting to put all of the responsibility for guarding our thoughts eyes on the other person. We need to be realistic on both counts, and realize that there are reasonable things both sexes can do!

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