"Concentration camp?" he queried.
"It's where the Nazis put innocent people during World
War II. These camps were worse than prisons; they took
away all human dignity. It was so inhumane, the real opposite
of freedom. It was in this environment that Frankl said
he could be free-inwardly free."
"That's not freedom," he interjected. "At least I don't
think so," he added, sounding less forceful. "It was making
the best of a bad situation. I think freedom is both inner
and outer. Both are required. Then it takes us to the
"The next step? What do you mean by that?"
"Let me explain. You seem like a good audience. You know
how to listen. Everybody wants to be free. What I see
is that we have worked very hard to provide freedom in
this country. People have the right to life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness. I've heard we now have a bill
of rights, adopted in 1791. This ensures exterior freedom,
that is, if there are enough of us ready and willing to
take responsibility for it. In this climate we can work
on our inner freedom. We can learn to choose how we want
to respond. We can choose virtues or, as you say, not
to be driven by impulses and desires. There seem to be
quite a few working on that. I think that's important.
But there has got to be more."
He started pacing up and down. He looked out the window.
The dark night sky hung heavily over Philadelphia. The
Liberty Bell was visible in its pavilion, its famous crack
in full view. I didn't know what to say. I had not thought
about taking freedom a step further than exterior and
"I think I would call it 'relational freedom.' I mean,
we all have to get along. It's how we relate face to face
with each other. External laws are indispensable. But
how do we get along in the groups we are a part of? If
we can do that right, then we are really free." He stopped
talking for a moment, then asked, "Do you know what I
He had caught me by surprise, this Very Old Ben. I hadn't
thought about being free in groups, except maybe as freedom
of expression or freedom from peer pressure, freedom to
be myself. But I wasn't sure what he was driving at. We
A distant roll of thunder broke the silence. His eyes
lit up, and he peered out the window at the lightning
in the distance.
"There has got to be some kind of freedom connected with
how we are a part of groups, how we relate. I mean freedom
to be who we truly are while at the same time relating
as a group. For me, this is another step toward freedom,"
he said reflectively. He turned away from the window and
said emphatically, "And I don't mean conformity. That
gets in the way, everyone hiding their individual differences.
That's not real freedom. Then there are no conflicts,
but who is thinking creatively? We are all so different,
with different points of view." He shook his head, "We
can be free to be different."
I laughed. "Well, we've been working on that one. Perhaps
we do go along with 'group think,' or conform to prevailing
ideas and fashions now and then, but we have become a
nation of individuals, I think. Maybe we've gone too far.
It's time to be an individual within a group."
"Sounds great. I would hate to see everyone going along
with the group just to avoid conflicts," he said. "I think
we have to be ready to give people the freedom to be themselves."
"Yes," I pondered. "To be free in the group, free to be
different, but still be a group. That would require a
lot of empathy."
"Empathy?" he questioned, his eyebrows going up in surprise.
"Yes, I mean the capacity to share the feelings of another-to
feel what another is feeling. It's a little different
from sympathy, which is to be in agreement with someone's
feelings," I explained. "I think empathy is essential
for getting along in a group. At least I acknowledge that
someone has feelings, and that they may be different from
my own. Then I can put myself in their place, and feel
what they might be feeling."
"Empathy? Empathy! You mean there's a word for it?" he
asked incredulously. "Yes, perhaps relational freedom
is based on empathy. Then we can embrace each other's
differences." He resumed his pacing. "But perhaps it is
more than just getting along and being able to feel what
another feels. Maybe to be free within the group, each
group member must feel a part of the whole group-for better
"Wow, that means that in order to be free, we need to
be able and willing to be open, not only to others' feelings,
but to their points of view. I've never thought of it
that way. Then what? What are the groups for-just to get
along?" I asked.
"Of course not. I think groups are the way human beings
live and get things done. Human beings function in groups.
They decide things and do things. But I think there is
a better way to decide than majority rule. I mean, that
was a big step, but let's go on from there." He seemed
"Like consensus?" I suggested.
"Consensus? Another new word?"
"I mean the whole group has to agree on something, after
hearing all ideas and points of view and coming up with
something everyone can at least live with," I said.
"Consensus!" he chortled gleefully. "If there's a word,
there's an idea. There is hope."
"It's more than an idea," I said. "Some groups are practicing
consensus. But I've never equated it with freedom. Then
again it does seem like a natural progression-an advance
based on both exterior and inner freedom."
The storm was getting closer. Peals of thunder came quickly
and flashes of lightning lit up the room. There was a
smell of rain in the air.
He was practically dancing; "empathy," "consensus," he
I was just letting his ideas sink in, working on arranging
my thoughts to understand what he was saying. I wanted
more explanation. "Relational freedom," I pondered-but
it was too late. The rain had started coming down now,
first a few sprinkles, then soon it was pouring. The thunder
and lightning were right overhead. He picked up something
from the desk and rushed out. I followed him, trying to
keep up. When we got outside, he headed through the pouring
rain for the Liberty Bell, the lightning lighting his
way. By the time we got there, we were both drenched to
the skin. Somehow he got close to the Liberty Bell and,
lifting the stick he had in his hand, struck it soundly.
The big old bell tolled deeply. Very Old Ben opened his
mouth and his deep voice rang out, "Freedom!" Both tones
vibrated into the storm, in harmony with the sound of
the thunder and the rain.
"Let freedom ring!"