The Four Freedoms

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Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

Last week – ahead of starting to seriously social distance ourselves – we went to the Norman Rockwell exhibition at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Because of fast-moving global events around coronavirus it turns out that this will be the only “treat” outing we’ll have while we’re here, visiting family.

The dominant theme of Rockwell’s paintings is Franklin D. Rooseveldt’s Four Freedoms which are extremely appropriate to the state of the globalised world and what’s happening all over it right now. Rockwell painted them during WW2, when they  were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post for over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day.

The Four Freedoms are as significant now as they were back in 1943:

Freedom of speech – Freedom of worship – Freedom from want – Freedom from fear

Rockwell illustrated each freedom differently; each is powerful in its own way. The jacket worn by the model in the painting shown is on display at the exhibition, and the occasion itself was based on a real event where a man spoke out on a controversial topic at a community meeting, where he was respected and heard out.

But the final freedom – Freedom from fear – at this moment has the greatest charge for me. Fear is rampaging through our world because of coronavirus. I realised today that I’m now more alarmed at what is happening all over the world because of the virus (lockdowns, curfews, panic buying, borders closing etc.) than I now am about catching the virus itself.

Fear is a powerful weapon. It was FDR himself who, in his 1933 inaugural speech said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”. Fear is power. If we have fear we’re not fully in charge of our own liberties, we’re reined in, restrained in some way,  not connected to what is essentially good within us.

Two other mentions of fear also come to mind: the book entitled “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. It’s a personal growth book which I read many years ago and found helpful. The other book – a big one! – which touches, amongst many other things, on coping with fear is A Course in Miracles.

The quote from the Course which stands in my mind and is the one I go to in times of stress and anxiety, such as these, is “There is no need to fear”. That has got me through a lot of tough, challenging times and as a mantra it has a calming effect. I’ve added the link for this lesson of the course; it may help, it may not. It works for me.

But what of the other freedoms? To be free to speak out, to worship whichever higher being  nurtures our spiritual needs, to be free from want, through hunger or not having shelter are all important. Sad to say all these freedoms are not fulfilled in our current world, making The Four Freedoms as relevant now as they were when they were voiced by FDR.

Freedom from fear, for me, is the freedom which underpins them all. We can so easily be paralysed by fear, which would hamper us speaking out, as would being afraid to openly worship in ways right for us, and likewise we can be afraid of not having enough to survive on.

The world we know seems to be crumbling apart, but as scary and unsettling as this is, there are some good things emerging. People, marooned in communities locked down against the spread of coronavirus are starting to form support groups and organise how they can help each other, especially those seniors who may become isolated. Today, for  about 30 minutes I was distracted and delighted to hear from all my cul-de-sac neighbours in the UK who have formed a WhatsApp help and support group.

Although I’m in Houston and hoping to get a flight back home, I felt buoyed up by the friendship and community spirit as all of us joined in and added our twopenny-worth of energy to the enterprise. The fear retreated and something brighter and more positive took its place.