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Free yourself from collective thought

May 12, 2007|By DAVID BUSSARD

As a writer, I suppose I have a different view of the texts that I read than most people. I think of each text - whether it be a poem or a novel or an editorial for that matter - as a space that is waiting to be explored by me, the reader.

I like to delve, to look closely at the architecture of the text and see the space that is held by each word. Of course the structure created by a poem is going to be different than that created by an editorial piece.

Either way, line by line and bit by bit something unique is created, something worth exploration. I can hear my mother saying, "That's silly," but even she would agree that texts create worlds, and in order to understand these worlds, the reader has to know what pieces are important to them. The load-bearing words, so to speak.

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The world we know, our reality, has these words. Love. Hate. War. Peace. These words are often polar, inhabiting space at one end of the spectrum of emotion or understanding.

And boy, are they abstract. However, today the words freedom and terrorism are thrown about like no others. Freedom has all but become a catchphrase nowadays, nearly meaningless.

The meaning is forgotten, buried underneath signs and bumper stickers and t-shirts proclaiming that freedom isn't free and the popular reply, "Well, it's a free country."

In order to explore the word freedom, I asked myself what I would do if it were an important part of a text. Immediately I thought of viewing the word from the perspective of characters in the text, their real-world equivalent being, well, people.

So, I asked around. What is freedom? What is terrorism? The majority of the people I asked viewed freedom in the collective, that is to say they thought of freedom in terms of groups of people - freedom in niches, whether it be women or blacks or any other minority.

Today it seems that freedom is applicable primarily to the collective. It is a banner to be held high over a nation. It is a trophy to be won in revolutions. It is something to be attained by segments of society in movements, such as the civil rights movement or the women's rights movement.

The word is thus equated with the word "rights," yet we are all born with certain unique freedoms and not necessarily are we born with rights.

Terrorism is generally viewed as the antithesis of freedom, sort of like how love is the opposite of hate. Those I asked viewed terrorism as the disruption of society - holding people back from obtaining freedom. Basically, oppression with a dash of violence.

Again, the commonly held view of terrorism fell on the level of the collective. Terrorists are funny looking men in hordes in some far-off land trying to take away our freedom because they hate us, right?

So often we seem to do this; we equate freedom with physical modes - that is the ability to move from one place to another, or to go to the store whenever we'd like or to read (or not read) the newspaper.

But there is a deeper freedom, one that is often ignored. It lives inside of us, despite what space we inhabit or what country we are a citizen of. Our personal freedom - the only true freedom - is often stifled by the collective.

What will he think of me if I say what I'm thinking? What will she think of me if I share this with her, or if I do this in front of her?

We are so often embarrassed by our own thoughts and feelings that we hide behind the cloak of the collective. In effect, we become the terrorist, hindering the personal expression of those around us. A terrorist isn't always a man who takes out a skyscraper with a 747 or a person with a bomb in their loafers.

A terrorist is also the rapist, or the bully on the playground or a colleague at the office who constantly belittles your ideas. Terrorists take; that is their primary objective. They intimidate. They make you feel small.

So perhaps in order to understand terrorism, we must think smaller. In order to attain freedom, we must first take back our own personal space.

As with any textual structure, there must be a foundation. In order to find freedom on the level of the collective, we have to start with ourselves, and we have to find it for ourselves.

David Bussard is a Clear Spring resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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