Note: This post is written by Maria Chaplia
“Here’s your receipt. You have to pay $30 for our translation services.”
“But you said the price would range between $15-$20 yesterday when I made the order. You also promised it would be ready in the morning and it’s 4pm now.”
“Well, you know, it took our translators more effort than we expected. And your deadlines were really harsh. After all, who does such things at the very last minute? You should have turned to us earlier. Are you going to pay?”
As human beings, we cannot avoid interaction with other people. More often than not we find ourselves in situations when either a person or a system makes us accept their unilateral rules of the game. Whether it’s a clerk working at a bureaucratic institution and treating us with an “I am the state, you are nothing” attitude, a parliament which passes laws violating our rights, a society placing on us a great number of expectations and norms, a teacher shutting down our challenging opinions, or a parent who perceives our life goals as meaningless. In most cases, we have two options: either we speak up for what we believe is right or we give in to someone else’s idea of what is right.
Fear as the driving force
One of the crucial characteristics of unfree societies and countries is the fear to stand up and stand out. Although we have witnessed many revolutions, such as The Revolution Of Dignity, happening in the last couple of years, the issue goes down to the individual level, which explains why those group uprisings have changed so little.
Freedom always comes with responsibility and while everyone craves the first, hardly anyone is ever ready to deal with the latter. What unfree societies always do is trade their freedom for security and reassurance in the future. Today is bad, so tomorrow will be bad too, but at least you know what to expect, right?
On a governmental level, this concession opens up a great field for manipulation, as regardless of your ideological backbone, you can always frame your agenda as the one wanting to make life in your country more stable. For instance, if one takes a look at the speeches of Ukrainian politicians, it becomes obvious that for years most of the them have been swirling around two things: security and stability. Politicians always respond to people’s needs in their proclamations. Their actions, however, are divorced from the ideals expounded in their speeches.
The fear to stand up and to consequently become ostracised from society, which provides as much security as the idea of government as a ruling authority, stems from conformism. Why would you, for example, wear a dress together with sneakers in a city where no one else does it and so look like an outsider? What would people think of you if you are a law school drop out? Why write poems, be a marketing manager, or doing anything else that won’t make you respected in your society?
In other words, why be free if you can be a slave to someone’s idea of what is right? In unfree societies, the very idea of freedom to act in the way you want is associated with guilt. Thus, it is your choice to state in your final exam that you believe in free markets, not in central planning, and you will be punished by a teacher who has a different opinion. You will get B. You are the guilty one. You spoke up.
Status quo is encouraged, which is why we should challenge it
The idea of stability helps politicians manipulate their voters and so do the forces of guilt and shame on a societal level. Accordingly, just like most governments, most societies encourage the maintaining of the status quo. And while both systems presenting themselves as stable benefit from the status quo, the main loser here is the individual who pays taxes he never consented to and who has to subordinate to the public opinion which has internalised a pessimistic view of responsibility by turning it into guilt.
“No, I am not going to pay.”
I am not going to pay and I am saying my “No” as a consumer to the behaviour of that translation agency and I am saying “No” to the guilt the manager wanted to raise in me. I am responsible for making a time-sensitive order and agreeing to pay $20. Since they consented to have it ready by a specified time and at an agreed-upon price, it was their responsibility to perform their duties. Their failure is not, as they want me to believe, something I have to feel guilt for.
Yes, it’s that easy, just a random everyday thing, you would say. Everything starts small. Today you say “no” to an unfair treatment and perverse societal norms, tomorrow you say “no” to a government that steals from your pocket. Eventually, you will win. In the end, I paid $20, instead of the last-minute increase to $30.
Every action or lack of action has a consequence. Either you speak up or give up, you are the one to deal with the outcome. The choice is yours: will you speak up or give up?