I have written about freedom before, but, as Rousseau said, man is born free and everywhere is in chains. It is a topic that bears repeated discussion.

In business and in life, too many people want to think that they own other people. Other ‘resources’ or whatever they may call these people. These owners might be managers, generals, admirals, spouses or brothers.

The more correct attitude should be as a manager or as a person: “Thank you for graciously allowing me to work (or live) with you.”

No one owes us anything.

Yes, I know it is hard to accept, but there is no amount of anything that we ‘gave’ them that makes them our slave.

Not an employee, not a spouse, not a friend, not a child, not anyone. They always have the choice to work (or live) with us or not. We never, in any way, own or command them.

Yes, perhaps in wartime, it may be useful for the commander-in-chief to command from time to time, but always, according to good military ideas, it is setting a mission rather than commanding a specific action. Cf. Maneuver Warfare in Wikipedia, as one example. Thus, even in this situation, there is much scope for freedom. Few are the successful generals who lead troops that do not choose (freely) to accomplish the mission.

Least of all should we contravene their freedom for their own benefit — for our view of the ‘benefit’ for these employees (except perhaps for children who are 17 or younger).

We have to respect that God, in his infinite wisdom, has given them their freedom (and given us our freedom). Allow them to make mistakes (and us to make our mistakes). We have no right to control what God has made free.

Now, this does not mean we can not give our friends advice or our employees (or others) advice, but real soon, if they don’t take the advice, we have to let them be free. Leave them alone, as we say.

“People are remarkably good at doing what they want to do.” —Little’s Second Law

Meaning: They will do what they want, and they won’t do what they do not want to do (what we wish to ‘force’ them to do).

It may seem like a traffic wreck to us, sometimes, but let them do it. Often we (who think we are so smart) are wrong. It does not become a traffic wreck at all. Sometimes we are right, that it does become a traffic wreck of some proportion. Even that actually ends up good — they learn from that. Far better learning than what would have come from our so-called brilliant advice.

So, if your team trusts you, from your actions in removing their impediments perhaps, trusts that you actually care, then, surprisingly, they may actually listen to your advice more. Accept, as a manager, that it MUST be only advice, and not a command.

Sorry! It seems so much harder than just commanding.
In fact, it is so much better. (So, the ‘sorry’ is retracted.) Even for you as a manager.

Many are the men who bob their heads, saying by that action that they believe in freedom, perhaps even that their lives are dedicated to freedom, and then in the next hour they try to abridge the freedom of another. “As you from sins would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.” I, too, of course have made this error; and so I can forgive.

P.S. Not only is freedom still to be learned by those who wish to command. Equally we who continue to be commanded must learn that we really are free, and we cannot put up with abridgments of our freedom. This is the path that humanity has been on for only a millennium or perhaps two, so we still have far to go.

P.S.S. As soon as we talk about freedom, we must immediately speak of responsibility. It seems paradoxical, but it is not. On that topic next.




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5 thoughts on “Freedom

  1. Joe Little

    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for your kind comment.

    Freedom is an important thing for us as humans. And a big and complex subject. One wishes to speak intelligently about it.

    And to act usefully, even if not always knowing quite why.

    I am guessing that you might know something about dialectical materialism, as the communists used to talk about it. And it might seem as if, almost the opposite, I am hopelessly over taken by religion, the opiate of the masses, as Marx famously put it.

    Well, such is not the case. I am certainly not a reductionist about what human nature is, where that is reducing things to "only what science knows" or only what Freud hypothesized. Or yet many other reductions. Equally, I remain somewhat skeptical of any complete "system" of conceiving of things, be it religious or philosophical.

    Still, that Freedom is important, and that humans have freedom from birth, I have no doubt. And no doubt that it is the second most important subject we shall ever study to act upon. After love, that always mis-understood word.

    If you are getting a notion that Scrum has something to do with Freedom, you would at least be guessing correctly at my opinion.

    And, if you are the Monica I think you are, I look forward to meeting you soon.


  2. monica ipate

    Hi Joe,

    I have discovered your comment today and I have found it more interesting then the entire article about Freedom.

    I know about dialectical materialism and communists as I lived in a Communist country for a while. A famous Romanian philosopher said that if you are young and not a communist, then you have no heart. Later in life, he changed his political views, departing from the Marxism and later becoming a devout Orthodox Christian. And you know why? Because when he was young was confusing communism with communitarianism.

    Can you see my point? Can we link the notion of Scrum with Freedom? Or maybe with the notion of communitarianism…

    Your article about Freedom was a very touching one from my point of view. Because sometimes we need to philosophize. We are humans, not machines. We need the freedom to philosophize.
    And yes, I'm that Monica you are talking about, looking forward to meeting you soon.

    Best regards,

  3. Joe Little

    Hi Monica,

    There is a to-me famous quote, something like: "If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when you are old, you have no brain."

    Certainly I see your point. Thinking that all people are valuable and deserve something good from life (as the ideals of communism propose) is a good idea. Where communism went wrong is thinking that central government (or the dictatorship of the proletariat) was gonna make things better.

    Yes, you can most assuredly connect Scrum and Freedom. In fact, that is one of its first and most fundamental connections.

    When you say "we need to philosophize" I want to put it this way. We need to understand our most basic values and principles. And they need to be in touch with Reality (always and ever a difficult thing to understand), and perhaps God (again, maybe a slightly easier thing to understand – smile). And these need some reasonable consistency. And those (implicit or explicit) form the basis for our actions, for our living.

    So, and I think you would agree, we do not philosophize to score debating points or to entertain ourselves at a Paris cafe, but because, to pick on Socrates, we are trying to figure out what it means to live a good life.

    You may recall that Socrates generally was rather modest about what answers he had. But rather sure he had some good questions. But when it came time for action (and he had prepared a memorable defense), he was ready to take real action (drink the hemlock). He was not just 'well, on the one hand this, and on the other hand that.'

    So, Freedom and Love, two of our greatest words and ideas: yes, Scrum in very specific and concrete ways supports the practice of each of them.

    Again, I agree that we humans most assuredly are not machines (in fact, rather bad at acting like machines). One thing we are good at is creativity and innovation and general craziness, which things make life so wonderful (usually).

    Again, I look forward to meeting you.


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