In yesterday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman writes:

 In October 2010, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, famously told The National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” And that’s how he and his party acted.

Well, Mitch, how’s that working out for you?

McConnell saw his job description as making Obama fail. He said explicitly that he didn’t want to pass any legislation because Obama can claim credit.

Gee, if I recall, the job description for a legislator is to actually make legislation. McConnell has tipped so far over into what he’s against, he’s lost sight of what he’s for. As a leader, he should have been working to make positive change, not using time and tax payers money to wage a vendetta.

America’s vote last night means different things to different people. To me it meant, among other things, that the majority of people, not everyone, but at least half, is tired of the politics of being against.

It’s easy to see this playing out on a national stage. But we all do it. For some reason it’s easier to be against than it is to stand for something. Sure, there are moments to stand up against things, but unless you’re also selling something positive, just being an “anti” monger doesn’t work.

We have to decide whether we want a “negative freedom,” the freedom from constraint, from the abuse of power, from any infringement on our activities. Or, do e want a “positive freedom,” the freedom to realize ourselves, to make a thriving community, to innovate and create. Being against is the negative freedom we’re used to, and it leads to a democracy of individual rights, based on the belief that freedom arises out of pitting individual against individual, individual against government, and minority against majority.  

Being against something is seductive, because it makes us  feel powerful, but actually, it’s just a semblance of power. We define ourselves in relation to the other, but not in terms of our innermost potential. 

While freedom from has been the dominant mode of democracy to-date, freedom to is a lesser known, not-yet-realized form of democracy. It is based on the understanding that liberty is much more than absence of constraint. Real liberty is the inner capacity to self-actualize and create, not just to resist.

And it means articulating what you want, why it’s useful and what it will do for people. It means you have to collaborate, to work with others to build something, and make something that matters. So let’s take the election to exercise our positive freedom, to be for something, to use our imagination, envision the  future we want, and  work together, even with those we don’t agree with, to make it a reality.


7 Responses so far.

  1. Eileen Clark says:

    Great article Julie. It is a topic that often arises for me in the work place, with colleagues and with clients. It is often the case, and easier, to define our lives by what we don’t want, or define a framework by what it isn’t, rather than what it is or what we want, requires a lot more work, awareness and willingness to go places that may feel a bit risky emotionally.

  2. Rita Mesch says:

    The continual energy of “against” borrows heavily from our future as it involves maintaining an attitude of anger (even if it has a a 10% dose of justice in it)that suffocates invention, positivity and creation. As you talked about the “interest” we pay on energy spent unwisely, this is a prime example.

  3. Ian Curtin says:

    Wow, I love the way you state things. Most of my young life was about defining myself against unfair family dynamics. And I agree that “being against something is seductive” because it plays into my deeply ingrained defenses that hide my fear of being powerless. Over the years I have sat around my inner campfire burning my wood and laying to rest many of my old stories. It is this inner work that has expanded my awareness of how I can operate from what is alive in me, and spend my energy on creating the world I want to live in. I can easily look back on my life and see the “proof” of living a life based on “positive freedom”.

    • juliediamond says:

      Thank you, Ian. Touching to hear you speak about sitting around your inner campfire burning your wood…. you speak for many of us. I think it’s also inevitable. Getting to know ourselves starts with defining what we are against. A really important step, and also one we can get rather attached to, as you point out.

  4. Alexandra Vassiliou says:

    Thanks Julie for writing about this. In these times, at least in Greece, where abuse of power and violence are escalating beyond control, it is crucial to remember what we stand for. When things become as dramatic as they are today in Greece, we get so caught up in standing against things, that we become the exact thing we are standing against (abusive and violent). I am constantly seeking this balance. To actively take a stand against abuse and violence, while at the same time define myself by what I stand for(community and dialogue). This way of defining makes the difference in the solutions we seek. It affects how we relate to each other and how we co-create.

  5. parker johnson says:

    great article. thanks!

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