I was born in a country in which freedom forms the
cornerstone of our democracy. We have a Bill of Rights that guarantees
basic freedoms unknown in many parts of the world. The truth is,
everywhere on planet earth, people are free, but the consequences of
exercising that freedom may be catastrophic. I have been in countries
in which the secret police are more than happy to watch you exercise your
personal freedom, because it makes their job easier. They know who
they need to keep under surveillance. Any country without a Bill of
Rights is a scary place to live, and for that matter, any country eroding
their Bill of Rights is turning its back on greatness. To the degree
they amend their fundamental freedoms, to that degree they have fallen from
grace and trivialized the sacrifices made by all who have gone before that
gave their lives to guarantee their freedom.
Many people don't understand the meaning of freedom. They talk about freedom, but worship at the altar
of irresponsibility. They actually believe the world owes them the
right to do whatever they want, irrespective of the impact it has on
themselves or other
people. That's not freedom; it's anarchy and chaos.
If you can take the Bill of Rights seriously without sliding down the
slippery slope of irresponsibility, you are headed in the right direction.
That doesn't mean you are free, but at least you have a firm foundation on
which you can build a life.
The Bill of Rights protects your freedom from being compromised by forces
outside yourself. But there is nothing in that document that makes you
free, because true freedom comes from within. Your culture has many
powerful forces at work that would curtail your personal freedom, but they
never march in the front door and put shackles on your arms and legs,
They come in the back door with their ball and chain, place them on the
table, and let you put them on all by yourself. They don't need to
strong arm you or even intimidate you, because you will make choices that
will shackle you more securely than a regiment of secret police ever could.
When you sign on the dotted line for a thirty year mortgage on an expensive
house and a five year loan on a fancy car, you just put the shackles on, and
it's going to be a long time before you have enough freedom chips to once
again be free. You know exactly what you are going to be doing in the
foreseeable future, maybe even for the next thirty years.
Without realizing it, young people often make choices that last a lifetime.
Those who exercise their freedom to engage in promiscuous behavior and
inject drugs often find themselves shackled to hepatitis B and AIDS, their
new and unwanted life long companions who will not and cannot go away.
It's unfortunate that God didn't install a freedom meter in the middle of
their forehead, so they could take a look in the mirror to check out
the long term consequences of the choices they make.
During most of my adult life, I have placed a high value upon maintaining my
personal freedom to the greatest extent possible. Nevertheless, most
of the time, the choices I have made have limited my freedom to a
significant degree. There's not a lot of freedom when you spend four
years in college, four years in medical school, five years in internship,
residency, and fellowship training that made me into a board certified
ophthalmologist, and retina and vitreous surgeon. That's thirteen
years shackled to the study carrel in the library, the emergency room, the
operating theatre, and all that has to happen before I could put up my
shingle and practice medicine independently in the real world. Add to
that the responsibility of raising a family and paying for their education
all the way through university. That's why I didn't dispose of my
scalpel or take down my shingle until I was forty-seven years old.
So what did I do to keep from going crazy in my world of limited freedom?
First, I chose to work overseas in international medicine. This single
choice opened the floodgates of freedom, the likes of which haven't been
seen in the United States for fifty years. Overseas, doctors are still
held in high esteem, and I was able to practice my craft unencumbered by the
dead weight of Medicare, insurance companies, and a legal system running
amok. When I worked overseas, my job was to help people. Period.
Not to fill out Medicare forms. Not to argue with insurance companies for
reimbursement. Not to practice defensive medicine
because I needed to cover my buns. My patients knew beyond a shadow of a
doubt that I was their advocate, and I would move heaven and earth to do
everything humanly possible to fix their detached retina, to restore lost
vision. They trusted in God, and they trusted in me, and rightly so.
If you can't trust your doctor and hand him your burdens, then you need to
visit another physician. Practicing medicine in the third world was an
extremely demanding but very liberating experience, and if I had to do it
over again, I would do the same thing. Freedom to practice your craft
in an unencumbered manner is worth its weight in gold.
Second, even though I lived and worked for sixteen years in Saudi Arabia, I
had more personal freedom in Arabia than in any place I have lived in the
world. The reason is simple. In Arabia, I lived in a parallel
universe in which none of the rules affecting the Saudis applied to me.
At the same time, the long arm of my own culture didn't reach across the sea
and control my daily life. I had the freedom to be myself and live my
life how I pleased as long as I showed up for work on time and practiced my
profession with integrity. Everyone who has been an expatriate in
Arabia knows what I am talking about, and that's why so many of them worked
there for such a long time. The parallel universe can be a wonderful
place to invest your life.
Third, the Arabian desert was one of the last places on planet earth where
you could do expeditionary travel without fear of running over
landmines or getting caught in a crossfire in a civil war. Arabia was
peaceful, and you could get in your Land Rover Defender and drive off-road
for 500 kilometers in any direction once you were outside Riyadh, and no
one cared where you went. They didn't even stop you at checkpoints.
They simply motioned you and your Land Rovers through the checkpoints,
because the authorities knew you were not a threat; you were just going into the desert to have the
adventure of a lifetime. There is no place on planet earth that was
safer or more accessible to people who wanted to drive off-road. The
Empty Quarter is the biggest sandbox in the world with sand dunes hundreds
of feet high, and we spent weeks each year exploring this sandy playground.
Fourth, I saved freedom chips. Each year that I lived in the magic
kingdom, I saved up more freedom chips, so that one day I could buy a freedom
machine, a catamaran, that I would sail around the world.
Fifth, I chose to live the unencumbered life. That means I kept my
infrastructure to a minimum whenever possible. I have never owned a
house, but I have owned five Land Rover Defenders.
Finally, freedom is just a thought away. You can't be free
until you learn to think thoughts that result in freedom. You must
think and act freedom into your life.
When I sit behind the wheel of my Land Rover Defenders, I can feel the
freedom start to bubble up in my mind. And when I look at Exit Only
anchored in paradise, I thank God that I live in a place and time in which I
have the freedom to sail on the ocean of my dreams.