Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” I’ve thought a lot about those lyrics over the years. I’ve come to disagree with her. I am writing about it because the nature of this trip is having unlimited freedom to do whatever I want to do for a month. I decided to come to Costa Rica and I picked Sámara, a beautiful beach town in southwest Costa Rica in Guanacaste as my home base. I rented, through VRBO, the bottom level of a house about a mile from the beach with no air-conditioning and two bedrooms. I have my own courtyard and outdoor kitchen, Costa Rican style. I wanted to keep costs down so I could travel other places and not worry about double paying. It has worked out well, although I admit, I came to a hotel a few nights just for the air-conditioning.
I have had three weeks to think about what total freedom means, and it is not what you think it means. (Isn’t that a line from Princess Bride?) Freedom, to me, is taking 100% responsibility for my actions. I cannot think of a time when I would have “nothing left to lose” as Joplin sang. I always have my trustworthiness, caring for myself and others, respect for myself and others, my strong sense of justice, responsibility for my actions and my sense of community. I do not see how those could be taken away without becoming unscrupulous. For me, being unscrupulous, breaking my moral code, would bring guilt and make me feel bad. That is not freedom. I cannot think of a time when I would have nothing left to lose because I would always have my honor even if I lost my material possessions.
As an example, take the person who smokes cigarettes. She is free to smoke even though she knows it is not good for her health. But shouldn’t her freedom end at the beginning of my nose? Second-hand smoke is bad for one’s health. Should her unlimited freedom include the right to harm someone else? In my opinion, it should not. If it were me, and I smoked, I would not smoke around others because it would hurt me to hurt others. So, would I lose my freedom because I would feel like I had done a bad thing to someone else and that feeling would not provide unlimited freedom? No, I think I would feel greater freedom. I would respect others’ freedom to breathe clean air so my unlimited freedom to smoke is unlimited in the sense that it’s contained by my sense of responsibility to others.
I recently took a trip out to central Costa Rica to explore a cloud forest called Monteverde. There, the Ticos are rapid environmentalists. In the hotel, a sign proclaimed sarcastically that the tap water was fine, but if the guest wanted to support the plastics industry by insisting on buying bottled water, it was available at the grocery store. Each room had three bins for recycling. The trip to the Visitors’ Center was accompanied by a lecture about staying on the paths and packing out what you packed in. I was used to this from hiking in Colorado but they were particularly adamant in Monteverde, perhaps because of the number of foreign tourists.
So, if no one was looking, didn’t I have unlimited freedom to dump my protein bar rapper in the woods? I don’t think so. My freedom extends to the point where someone else’s enjoyment ends due to my actions. That wrapper would ruin the feeling that one was all alone in a magnificent forest, the feeling I had while treading lightly on the meandering footpaths through the tropical jungle filled with toucans, quetzals, monkeys and all kinds of exotic animals. The way the clouds rushed into the valley creating multiple rainbows is a whole other story. Was I really free to destroy that enjoyment for someone else by leaving evidence of a human? I do not think so. My unlimited freedom again was contained my own character.
I have friends who have lied to me. They have unlimited freedom to lie to me. But there are consequences. I do not trust them anymore. I am not friends with some of them any longer. It’s difficult to tell the truth all the time. But I’ve come to believe it is more difficult to lie. No, I’m not Catholic. I’m not wracked with guilt when I lie. I just feel the consequences to me are worse. I have defeated my own moral code and sense of justice that I expect of others.
So while I have unlimited freedom here in Costa Rica, that does not mean I will suddenly change my character. Freedom in not another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom is taking 100% responsibility for your actions. Only then can you feel totally free to enjoy your life and do whatever you want. At least, that is my experience.