The worst chains are the ones we don't see. "No one is more a slave than he who considers himself free without being", wrote Goethe. Even if at times it scares us to recognize that we prefer to look in another direction, not to notice the profound division between the desire for freedom of the self and the oppressive chains that represent the "others".
Nietzsche, who devoted much of his work to thinking about how to free us from social tyranny, reflected on what a "free spirit" should be, a person who owns his shares who thinks and decides for himself without letting himself be influenced by society. A person who is not a product of social engineering but takes over the reins of his life and takes responsibility for his actions.
What is the person with a free spirit like?
In his book "Beyond Good and Evil", Nietzsche converts the self-affirmation of the will and the renunciation of the influence of others into the fundamental pillars of becoming a free spirit, but also outlines other characteristics that, in his opinion, should have people who aspire to think and decide for themselves.
1. Enjoying solitude. "Every chosen man instinctively aspires to have his castle and his hiding place where he can redeem himself from the crowd, from the many, from the majority," wrote Nietzsche. And it is no coincidence that it is one of the first characteristics of free spirits that he mentions since, according to the philosopher, solitude by choice is an essential condition for the free thinker. Loneliness is not only a sine qua non condition for introspection, but it also allows us to take the psychological distance necessary to find our true "self" under so many social strata.
2. Listen with an open mind. A free spirit is not an arrogant person, but he avoids the presumption of knowing everything and opens his mind to new knowledge and perspectives. Nietzsche said: "the lover of knowledge must listen subtly and diligently, must have ears in all those places where one speaks without indignation". Although part of the free spirit's journey goes through inner paths, in search of itself, another part takes place in the shared world, so these people must be willing to drink from all sources.
3. Be yourself. “We have to get rid of the bad habit of wanting to agree with everyone,” Nietzsche said. The need to seek approval and acceptance can distance us from ourselves, silencing our true desires and aspirations. This is why the free spirit frees itself from the mass mentality and from that private laziness which consists in being subordinated to public opinion. A free spirit listens, but then evaluates and decides independently. Most often this means that others will disagree with our ideas and decisions, which will attract a lot of criticism. You need to be prepared for this eventuality.
4. Be strong and know how to deal with criticism. Being a free spirit in a society that goes out of its way to make people fit into pre-established patterns takes a lot of strength and courage. Nietzsche affirmed that “it is a matter of very few to be independent: it is a privilege of the strong”. He thought that anyone who tries to do so "enters a labyrinth, multiplies by a thousand the dangers that life already brings with it" and cannot even aspire to empathy since most people do not understand it, so they can judge their ideas and decisions such as nonsense or heresy, depending on the level of alarm they cause and the extent to which they clash with established social norms. Nietzsche foresaw it: “Our supreme insights necessarily seem - and they must seem! - nonsense and, in certain circumstances, crimes, when they unduly reach the ears of those who are not made or predestined for it ”.
5. Overcoming social stereotypes. The free spirit that Nietzsche described must be able to go beyond good and evil, avoiding this "dangerous moral formula" as it would only make us "courageous advocates of 'modern ideas'"; that is, the defenders of the system on duty. For the philosopher, being a truly free spirit is tantamount to getting rid of moral and social conditioning to determine our own lives, regardless of what we should or shouldn't do. Therefore, his is a call to subvert the old structure of values which, according to him, enslaves the human spirit. A value structure based on good or bad labels that prevent us from seeing things in their vast complexity by making us neglect the entire range of colors that exists between black and white.
6. Develop detachment. For Nietzsche, the free spirit "cannot remain attached to any person: not even the most loved one", nor to a country, to martyrdom and even to science because that insane attachment would take away from him the objectivity and the possibility of moving forward on the path of discovery. He also states that we should not "stick to our dismay, to that voluptuous remoteness and alienation of the bird that flees higher and higher, in order to see more and more things beneath it [...] We must know how to preserve ourselves: this is the greatest proof of 'independence". The practice of emotional detachment is about embracing uncertainty and having the flexibility to change our minds if we realize we were wrong or that those ideas were hurting us because they had lost their reason for being.
From free thinker to free spirit
The characteristics of the free spirit that Nietzsche defines indicate that these are people who are not chained to customs, social conventions and stereotypes but, above all - and more importantly - are not chained to the prevailing thought patterns, not only in terms of ideas but of the thought process itself. They are people who question everything because they need to reach their own truth.
Indeed, Nietzsche distinguishes between free thinker and free spirit since, while the former runs the risk of sticking to his ideas, rendering them immobile, the free spirit continually seeks while immersed in a process of constant growth.
The free thinker exposes himself to the temptation of substituting one God for another, as did scientists, who sacrificed religion on the altar of science to build a new altar on which established dogmas can hardly be discussed. Nietzsche's free spirit, on the other hand, is a tireless seeker, a tenacious inquisitor who tries to form his own image of the world without imposing it on others. In his research he frees himself from bonds and certainties to embark on the most exciting journey of all: the search for his ideas.
Let's stick to this consideration by Alvin Toffler: “The illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.