What is Freedom?

October 27, 2017



On 29 September Dr. Samuel Lee was invited to speak at a dinner gala organized by the German Lutheran Church held at Sweedish Lutheran Church in Rotterdam. He was asked along with other professors and artists to share his thoughts on freedom. The following is the script of his speech:


I am asked to share my personal views on freedom. What is freedom to me? Does freedom mean a borderless estate in which we can do, say and live how we want to—without considering others and circumstances? Is freedom about me, or about us? 

I see freedom as the togetherness of humanity: a social, moral and ethical agreement – or perhaps a contract as Jean Jacque Rousseau would indicate – between peoples to respect and honor one another. After all these years, I come to realize that freedom is shared: I can’t be free when my freedom hinders or disturbs another man’s freedom or vice versa. As Saint Paul, rightfully would say; “we have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial, not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” Is it beneficial to humiliate, caricaturize other man’s beliefs, traditions and cultures just for the sake of “freedom” of speech and press? Or, how far can one tolerate the intolerance within a system of belief and culture? Freedom is shared! Freedom cannot be dictated, it cannot be forced or imposed on others. Freedom cannot be at the cost of another man’s pain. We are free together, if not our freedom is in vain! 

The first article of International Declaration of Human Rights indicates that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” However, the question that I always ask myself is whether all human beings are really born free? Is an undocumented immigrant, or an unwanted refugee truly free, is he or she truly treated equally in dignity and in rights? When I saw the heart-breaking pictures of the dead innocent children on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, taken to us by the waves as the bitter souvenirs of a fallen humanity –I then wonder what happened to “freedom”? When the suffering of others is ignored for the benefit of political gains, money, guns, and power—then I have this impression that the word “freedom” is in a serious crisis and so are we. I want to conclude my words with a poem I wrote for a dead refugee girl whose picture impressed me to write this poem:


Frozen Soul!


I have locked my eyes,
just for the sake of not seeing you,

I have frozen my heart,
just for the sake of not feeling you,

I have turned my back,
just for the sake of ignoring you,

I have killed my humanity,
just for the sake of not willing to know you,

I have ignored you,
just for the sake of my own comfort,

Oh my soul, Oh my soul,
you are so frozen;
frozen in your own lies!

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