Let me share a personal story about freedom or the lack thereof…

When I was twelve years old, to my great surprise, I suddenly found myself in a foreign country.

Against my will.

How did this happen, you might be asking?

Well, here’s the short version…

Goodbye U.S.A.

After the tumultuous ending of a second marriage, my mother decided to return to her native country of Panama to live. She brought me, and my nine-year-old brother, with her.

She told us we were going to Panama just for the summer. When our “vacation” ended, she informed us we were not going back to the United States.

A week later my brother and I found ourselves enrolled in an all-boys Panamanian school. We all wore khaki uniforms and had short cropped hair.

The other kids spoke little English, and we spoke little Spanish. We were complete outsiders in a completely foreign culture.

We didn’t know the “social rules.” We were teased and called “gringos” by the other boys.

Sometimes we were bullied.

Needless to say, we were displeased.

But the weirdest part of our new school experience was this…

Being a foreigner

Every Monday, all the students—hundreds of us—were herded into a large central courtyard. We stood in precisely arrayed rows.

Then the weird music started playing.

Apparently, it was the Panamanian national anthem.

The Panamanian national flag was then raised, and we were expected to salute.

No exceptions, not even for gringos.

Not saluting was considered a blatant insult.

I felt weird, but I saluted.

Then we were expected to sing the national anthem.

Again, no exceptions.

I, of course, didn’t know the words.

So I pretended to know the words and mouthed along as best I could.

I remember thinking, as I looked around at the Monday morning assembly…

What kind of weird brainwashing exercise is this?

It felt like pure propaganda.

I learned something valuable

It didn’t come easily, but eventually I learned something powerful from this experience.

And I gained something powerful.

It turned out that, by saluting the flag of another country and being forced to pretend to believe something I didn’t truly believe…

I finally gained true independence.

Independence from what, you might ask?

Conditioned Thinking

I learned that all of us are trained to believe things we never question.

I never questioned the idea that my fervent belief in the inherent superiority of the United States was more of a conditioned belief than anything else.

Now, I’m not saying that I no longer believe that the United States is a great country because I do.

But now I believe it for reasons that I myself have discovered by thinking for myself.

By doing what the ancient Greeks called an autopsy.

Yes, the word “autopsy” is an ancient Greek word that originally meant “go see for yourself.”

I think of the word as also meaning “go think for yourself.”

I like thinking for myself and figuring out what’s actually true. I abhor relying reflexively on others to impart beliefs I am expected to unquestioningly accept.

I love living in a country that was built on the idea of personal freedom.

The best personal freedom, in my view, is the freedom to think for yourself.

No one can stop you from doing that.

And so that’s the freedom I’ll be thinking about this coming Monday, July 4th, 2022.

I’ll think about those long ago Monday mornings when I first learned what true independence really is.

What about you?

What will you think about today, tomorrow and beyond?

What ideas and beliefs do you think you should revisit to make sure you really understand them fully?

Thinking about these things can unlock powerful freedom that many people never attain.

Of course, true freedom is not easy to come by.