Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), in his essay, “What is Enlightenment?”
The philosopher Immanuel Kant gave this answer to the question “What is Enlightenment?” in an essay published during 1784, nearly 100 years before the Statue of Liberty was built.
But “Statue of Liberty” isn’t the true name of the giant green goddess-like figure overlooking New York City’s harbor area. She was officially named the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World.” I realized during a recent trip that to call her simply “the Statue of Liberty” is to miss the point of her name. The liberty she represents has a defined purpose—to bring enlightenment the world.
The copper colossus, designed by French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, was intended as a 100-year birthday present from the French to the people of the United States. Construction of the statue and the pedestal was completed in 1886.
Originally the statue stood for shared political freedom between the United States and France. Poet Emma Lazarus expanded this view to include hope against external sources of tyranny:
… Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. … “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Yet “liberty” and “enlightenment” mean so much more.
Kant had put the word enlightenment into a personal context a century earlier. “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.” Kant’s motto of enlightenment was “Sapere aude” – Dare to be wise.
As humans take more responsibility for their personal lives, they find more freedom within themselves to act from a place of authenticity. This brings more awareness into their lives, which in turn spreads more light to others. When enough people experience this internal freedom, then perhaps humanity will reach a critical mass in consciousness and the whole world will experience more freedom, maturity, and wisdom.
It must start with each of us as individuals. Do I dare to develop the courage to emerge from my self-incurred, self-limiting immaturity? Do I dare to be wise?
I wasn’t ready to tap into my deeper levels of courage until my cancer journey forced me to dare to emerge from my self-incurred immaturity. Right after the sarcoma diagnosis in 2009, when I was in New York City, I apparently was ill-prepared for the privilege of visiting Liberty Enlightening the World. Unbeknownst to me, I first needed to grow up and heal my life. I missed the last ferry to the island that year, and put a visit to the green queen on my bucket list.
When I visited her this summer, five years into Radical Remission, I was ready to receive the full impact of her message of internal liberty and the resulting enlightenment that can be shared with the world.
I even ascended the double-helix passage up to the crown for an in-spirational view from on high.
And so I share Liberty Enlightening the World’s message: Dare to break out of self-incurred immaturity. Dare to be wise. Dare to lift your torch beside your own golden door and open it to share your brilliant light with the world.
Thriver Soup Ingredient
If you want to climb to the crown of the statue, purchase your tickets several months in advance. Only 500 people among the thousands who mill around the pedestal are allowed up into the crown each day.