Comedian Jon Stewart of the Daly Show was interviewed this year by NPR’s Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air. During the interview he made a very interesting comment about freedom with which many spiritual directors in the Orthodox tradition would agree. Stewart said:
It – you know, we come in, and it’s not – people always think “The Daily Show,” you guys probably just sit around and make jokes. We have a very, kind of strict day that we have to adhere to. And by doing that, that allows us to process everything, and gives us the freedom to sort of improvise.
I’m a real believer in that creativity comes from limits not freedom. Freedom, I think you don’t know what to do with yourself. But when you have a structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.
Sometimes people feel a Tradition like in the Orthodox Church curtails creativity and personal expression. Yet those in the tradition have taught for centuries that what humans often think of as freedom – freedom from constraint and structure to do as you wish – ends up enslaving a person to isolated individualism, namely to themselves. Unable to free themselves from the limits of the self they are never able to aspire to anything greater than themself.
One need only think about great athletes – their greatness is expressed when they perfectly follow all of the rules of the sport and yet excel. It is within the context and structure of the sport’s rules that they can demonstrate their personal excellence. If there are no rules, then greatness becomes meaningless. We need only think about all of the baseball players now accused of abusing steroids. Their “records” now all come into question as it cannot be said that they excelled in the sport, but rather by disregarding the rules their achievements are dubious at best.
The human being soars in spirit when he or she follows a discipline and keeps to the structure offered by Tradition and comes to realize what it is to be fully human, freed of the limitations of sin and selfishness. Discipline is the means to true human freedom.