We walked to the end of the quiet street, came to the busy road and saw, painted on the tarmac at the edge of the crossing, the caution: LOOK BOTH WAYS. “Can you actually do that?” I asked, and it made us laugh as we considered the possibility of trying to look both ways. I think maybe some animals’ eyes look both ways.
Like the god Janus with a face front and back of his head. That’s why they called January after him, first month of the Roman calendar. Poised on the threshold of the new year, looking back on the old, contemplating the new, like us at the crossing for a moment you look both ways. Then you step out.
Thinking about looking both ways joined on to some thoughts passing through my mind about how freedom and security are two sides of one coin. They can seem like opposites at first – as though the person who loved freedom would be quite different in temperament from the one who loved security. ‘Security’ has associations with guards and imprisonment for us; not freedom, certainly. But they do belong to each other.
The insecure person is driven by doubts and anxieties. Those act like adhesions inside the soul, creating painful pulls and tugs and stuckness. The one who relies on the approval of others, who follows the herd, who tags along with those who are admired, influential, ‘successful’, rich – hoping some of the shine will rub off, wanting to be the same. The one who candidates on ‘X Factor’ or ‘The Voice’, hoping to build a career out of being noticed, humbly waiting for the verdict of the judges. Grateful for the opportunity, gushing ‘this means everything to me, this means the world to me, this is the biggest thing in my life.’ Waiting in anguish to know if they are chosen or rejected.
For countless children life is like that. Trained by the judicious application of isolation, punishment, disapproval and rejection – conditional love – so they learn to please and to follow, to second-guess, to read the parent’s mood. This is how you grow a jealous and contemptuous adult, this is how you foster habits of scorn and criticism, and a culture of blame. This is how the ethics of not-being-found-out are shaped, and a society forms in which the laws protect corporations against individuals and the poor are castigated for the dodges expected of the rich.
But security, inner emotional security grown from unconditional love and simple acceptance, produces freedom. The free child feels secure in himself. The secure individual does not suffer from the weary burden of endlessly watching for crumbs to fall, waiting on the permission of others to come, to go, what to do, who to be.
Self-indulgence is not freedom. Freedom is not irresponsibility. The secure person is free to love, where the insecure knows only of attachments and transactions, not really understanding the peace and simplicity of love.
I like watching quiz shows on the telly, and often marvel at the numbers of people who, asked what will they do with the prize money of thousands of pounds, say they will buy a car (depreciating asset), go on holiday, or throw a massive party. Nooooooo! Don’t let it run into the sand! Think of something purposeful, something to seed the new. Put it towards the freedom that creates security or the security that creates freedom. Money is for conferring hope.
In managing money, opportunity, relationships, there are thresholds, crossings. And on the road is painted LOOK BOTH WAYS. The cautious traveller pauses – Freedom? Check. Security? Check – before proceeding.