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The Bigger Picture: Freedom, not License

The Bigger Picture

Freedom, not License

If license is doing what ever you want without ever experiencing consequences, then it is an impossibility. Our responsibilities to the world around us and other people in it, exist no matter how we behave. It is just a law of our reality. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

But we don’t always act as if that’s true. So at Talking Stick we ask ourselves, “How to help young people develop an awareness of Newton’s third law?” We respond differently to instances of freedom and instances of license (or attempted license) because of their different consequences.

Freedom: Having the opportunity to decide to go from building a marble run, eating snack, skipping rope and then drawing. The consequences are skill building, socializing, fine motor skills, nutrition, artistic expression, and joy.

License: Leaving the marble run pieces on the floor when you are done with them, throwing your crackers across the room, swinging the rope around too close to other people, and breaking colored pencils in half. The consequences are endangering others, destroying materials, attracting bugs, and creating messes for other people to clean up and resent you for.

So maybe the differences between freedom and license have to do with the nature of the consequences. We support one another to enjoy the actions that do not violate the rights or others. We intervene when the actions have negative effects on the rights of others. We also intervene because everybody needs to test and feel the limits of what is okay with other people in order to know how to behave. Not knowing how to behave is very scary for people, especially young people.

The nature of the intervention is important. The goals are to be respectful and wonder about what was behind the act of license. Leaving the marble run out was a probably a matter of wanting to move on to something else or just not knowing that they are expected to put materials away when they are done with them. Or they do know, but they need to test. So, a facilitator can just point out, “You left the marble run out. It belongs in that basket.” Sometimes this leads to immediate action and sometimes it is tested. At that point the facilitator can get closer and on the level of the tester and repeat themselves and/or make it a command, “Please, put the marble run away now”. It’s good to keep in simple or maybe throw in a short explanation about pieces getting stepped on and broken. In the end it is persistence that sends the message that there are limits on behavior. We don’t punish, take away recess or send people to the principal’s office because those actions teach fear, not love and respect. Our goal is not to make people afraid of leaving the marble run out but to feel good about putting it away.

At Talking Stick, we want to help people to learn how to enjoy their freedom and feel very uncomfortable about license. They test because they want us to show them the difference. It is our job to show them with patience, compassion, and understanding.