THE MOMENT WE’RE BORN and come into this world, we’re enslaved. From a young age, we’re taught how to be good, law-abiding citizens. Society, culture, school, and family impose rules on us that tell us how to think, how to behave, and how to live. While a degree of domestication is required to maintain harmony, too much domestication stifles the spirit and enslaves the mind.
Society programs us to be good little children, then good domesticated adults. When we’re good and follow the rules, society rewards us. When we’re bad and break the rules, we’re punished. By the time we become adults, we no longer need to be told how to behave because we naturally censor and control our behavior to conform to society’s expectations. We pretend to be someone we’re not in order to fit in. Now, stripped of all resistance, we slot into the system like a tiny cog in a big machine.
We grow up, go to school, work, pay taxes, get married, then have children who grow up and repeat the same process all over again. If we deviate from this norm, we’re criticized and shamed. But what about your dreams, your aspirations, and your plans for the future? It’s become increasingly common for people to ignore their dreams to maintain the status quo.
We lie to ourselves to look good. We pursue wealth and material possessions to make us feel better about ourselves. We struggle through relationships, even if a relationship is toxic, because it’s the “right thing to do.” And we punish, judge, and blame ourselves if we can’t meet society’s expectations.
When we think of slaves, we often imagine half-naked men and women breaking their backs, working in a field to the sound of a whip cracking above their heads. This is the most notorious form of slavery, where one person takes another person against their will and puts them in chains.
Because the Slavery Convention of 1926 labeled slavery a crime against humanity, many people assume that slavery no longer exists. There are, however, more slaves walking the earth today than three hundred years ago.
Slavery is illegal, but most of us are still enslaved. We are slaves to our emotions, relationships, attachments, addictions, beliefs, and possessions. The woman caught in a toxic relationship and the man languishing in prison for assault have one thing in common―they are slaves to their emotions. Slavery is insidious because it sneaks into our life and takes hold of us. Only when we find ourselves caught in slavery’s crushing grip do we try to escape or lie down and wait for death to arrive.
The woman who refuses to leave her abusive partner enslaves herself by staying in a relationship that acts as a prison. Why does the woman stick around? Is it the deluded belief that the relationship will one day get better? A chance to fix her partner? In this situation, hope blinds the woman to the truth.
When a circus trainer captures a baby elephant, the elephant struggles and resists. The elephant is wild and powerful, which makes taming it even more difficult. So what does the circus trainer do? They chain the elephant’s leg to a tree so it can’t run away. The elephant is trained to believe that it can never break the chain around its leg, no matter how hard it tries.
With time, the elephant grows weary. After several weeks, the circus trainer removes the chain from the elephant’s leg, replacing it with a thin piece of rope. The rope is delicate and weak, yet the elephant doesn’t try to escape. The elephant is now psychologically enslaved. Having grown up with the belief that the rope is unbreakable, the elephant can’t understand that with one simple lunge, it can snap the rope and walk free.
Humans are not too different from elephants. We’re born into this world a blank slate. Then, slowly, over time, we imprison ourselves. We grind it out in jobs we dislike, we trap ourselves in toxic relationships, we struggle to buy things we can’t afford, and as life gets more stressful, we succumb to a variety of addictions in a desperate attempt to numb our pain.
It’s safe to say that compared to all other animals, humans are the least free and most restricted. We imprison our bodies in the same way we imprison our minds. And if we aren’t enslaved by other people, we find a way to enslave ourselves.
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