It is peculiar indeed that the enabling condition for freedom is a force that compels: a compulsion, a necessity. Unconditional freedom appears to be conditioned by what contradicts it.
One of the best decisions I made in college was a compulsory requirement I dreaded. It was a great decision because I learned that I was wrong about my dread, and I learned to love what I thought I dreaded.
I suppose, then, that this decision wasn’t a decision at all. Because it was a requirement, I didn’t freely choose to make this decision. Of course the decision itself was an act of my own volition, but the decision-making process was by no means voluntary. I was coerced, and I learned to love the unexpected merits of that coercion.
Isn’t it the best when we are pleasantly surprised by the unexpected?
I was required to take a course on political philosophy for my major, and yet I avoided this requirement until my very last year of college. By then, the pickings were slim: there was only one such course available. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. Ancient texts. Ancient guys engaged in fancy talk that probably was no longer relevant.
I’m not saying I thought that ancient philosophy is irrelevant to today, or that it is unimportant. I knew it was relevant, and that it was important…but I just didn’t know. I saw the word “ancient,” and immediately assumed I would be averse to the course material. It’s not that I have a stigma against anything ancient (and I mean that strictly in terms of chronology). I really thought that I would not be able to relate to the ancient philosophers’ texts.
Because I didn’t know.
I hadn’t read, I hadn’t understood, I hadn’t learned. Even if I had read before, I hadn’t read. I perused one of the texts before (The Republic), but I never dissected the text piece by piece. Line by line. Word by word.
And when I began to disentangle the intricate assembly of ideas in the ancient texts, I began to read. And then I began to understand. And that’s when I learned.
Without a doubt, I wasn’t innovative enough on my own to disentangle these pieces by myself. I had an amazing professor, and to be honest I’m not sure if I would have had the same interaction with the ancient philosophers had I taken the course with another professor.
So…I learned. I learned about what the philosophers were saying, in ordinary talk. I learned about how fascinating and fun — yes, fun — it is to analyze and decode the dialogues that masterfully discuss real people values. I learned a lot about these values, concepts, and ideas. Perhaps most importantly, I learned to love what I thought I would fear and dread.
I learned to love philosophy, and particularly the ancient kind.