NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 3, 2014

Defining freedom not an easy job

As I See It
Jack Winninghoff

---- — This column is in response to Jonathan Wells’ “As Good as Your Word” column published March 10 discussing the definition of freedom. He makes a number of accurate observations in what I thought was a good column. My comments follow:

I define freedom as the capability to do whatever one wants, ranging from meritorious to despicable. This simplistic definition needs qualifiers. With the exception of recluses, hermits, shepherds or jailbirds in solitary confinement, the rest of us are social creatures who need each other to function in our society. We entertain each other, buy and sell from each other and cooperate in promoting activities, laws, sporting events, etc.

Acceptable freedom is limited by the cultural and resource constraints of our cultural group as a minimum and preferably civilized society in general, which implies living with laws, regulations and customs. Clearly there are differences from one country to another, one state to another, and even from one side of the tracks to the other of one’s hometown. However, I would postulate that the similarities in what is considered acceptable behavior are far greater than the differences. Laws sadly are sometimes written to benefit a small percentage of those affected. Laws can, of course, both guarantee freedom, or ideally eliminate behavior detrimental to society.

The degree of personal freedom is influenced by one’s resources. For example, I learned to fly during WWII, owned a couple of airplanes in the ’50s and ’60s that I flew mostly on business but sometimes on personal junkets. Flying to me was a satisfying skill and a useful business tool. I still have the yen, but the cost is unacceptably high. As Scot Adams, who writes the cartoon Dilbert, said in an interview with Charlie Rose a few days ago, “ ... the idea that money can’t buy happiness is bs!” (I’m pretty sure he said that on the air.)

A liking for expensive toys or houses or lifestyle is appealing to most of us. Although it is possible to be miserable while being affluent, it’s not the way to bet. A college friend of mine who was preoccupied with getting rich said, “Yeah, I know money won’t guarantee happiness, but if I am going to be miserable, I am going to be so in comfort!” One mildly cynical view is that happiness is a positive cash flow.

My own desire for freedom led to founding a small boat design and building company in 1974. I had worked for others for some 20 years and although I had achieved some success and some autonomy, calling my own shots had great appeal. The company has achieved some success and a good reputation, but did not provide the wherewithal to so some things I wanted to do, e.g., flying my own airplane.

As a small business owner, one would think there would be a surplus of freedom; however, the demands of employees, vendors, federal, state and local government make running a business less desirable than imagined by many who have not had the experience of meeting a payroll.

Policy-wise and product-wise, one can do what one wants if the money to do so is available! Large corporations generally have plenty of money to do things, but the competition to get what you need for your pet project is fierce. The golden rule applies meaning that the one with the gold rules. Being your own boss or being a good-sized wheel in a prosperous company usually requires long, hard work. Hence a noticeable freedom is the freedom to bust your buns!

Jonathan is correct. There is no easy way to define what freedom means.

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Jack Winninghoff, owner of Winninghoff Boats, lives in Rowley.