October 2017 - Free Together!

Free Together!


A relatively recent neologism that has widely caught on is 'manspreading', defined as the practice of men sitting in public transport with legs wide apart, thereby covering more than one seat. There are even signs on the Madrid public transport system to tackle this act of seated male selfishness!

I rather like this sense of freedom to invent words for commonly recognised human habits, and I believe Shakespeare had a deft habit of creating new words when the English language ran dry. The other alternative, a la the late Douglas Adams and John Lloyd in their book The meaning of Liff, was to take place names that were lazing around on signposts and ascribe them new meanings (e.g. Bodmin (n.): That irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay a bill together after a meal). But I digress...

There are a lot of freedoms in modern western society, but freedom must also have a limit. Human freedom is not absolute, but is related to the freedom of others. Paulo Freire in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, tells us, 'No one can be fully human while he prevents others from being so'. Total freedom is not licence to spread into the space of others, to trespass on their physical, emotional or religious space.

I rather like the stage show image I remember from childhood TV of the man who blew bubbles. He would blow the first, and then the second, right up to seven. Then (and they probably wouldn't allow this now) he drew on his cigarette and, using a fine straw, blew smoke into the now hidden bubble in the centre. Whilst each bubble had grown and stretched to form its own shape, the one in the middle was now perfectly square. Should one bubble intrude on another, the bubble will burst and the shape will be lost.

My point is that, should my striving for freedom stop you from being free, then I too am no longer free. The bubbles rely on each other for their shape, but to exist together, their shape must change and adapt, accommodate and accept. To be truly free, we need to be free together.

Nick Bird

your Rector