Freedom of association in a world of free will: who and what do we choose to associate with?

Freedom of Association in a world of Free Will:  Who and What do we choose to associate with?

Freedom of association in a world of free will: who and what do we choose to associate with?

People who share points of view on life and/or people that have similar aspirations and/or people going through similar circumstances in life tend to gather together.


Social scientists have studied the associational phenomenon extensively, particularly in open, democratic societies. Thanks to them we know that in those environments the possibility and the unrestricted exercise of associationism brings about a rich social fabric that is capable of producing a unique sense of social wellbeing.

They have pointed out that the unrestricted exercise of freedom of association is key to producing a type of society that reveres personal autonomy, personal development as well as personal responsibility and that generates an enormous inner social capacity to innovate regarding how to best tackle the problems it faces.

They have also made the case that freedom of association influences how we are with each other. How we interact with each other affects not only our private life, but also our public one. The possibility of freely exercising our rights to break any associational bond at any time brings its unique trait to how we are together – what is acceptable and what is not. If we factor in the fact that societies where we can exercise our right of freedom of association are, by-and-large, those where we can also exercise other fundamental rights (freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, etc.), we can understand that these kind of societies place restrictions over the exercise of power. The social dynamics associated with the unrestricted exercise of fundamental rights make very unlikely the emergence of centralizing, hierarchical schemes of domination able to impose a top-down agenda as well as structures of control over society, which those in charge deem ‘necessary’ to bring their will to fruition. In such a context, social scientists point out, the possibility of freely expressing our own point of view about life and of engaging with each other helps to bring about coordination and cooperation schemes capable of bringing out the best in people for the benefit of the whole.

For this host of reasons, the right to freedom of association is said to be at the root of the creation of virtuous circles. Because of them, freedom of association has earned such high esteem.


In matters of fundamental rights, social sciences work with wide social aggregates (e.g., the national or sub-national levels). In this sense, we can distinguish societies based on the extent to which they embrace any fundamental right. Yet, even within those who are said to embrace fundamental rights all the way (the right of freedom of association, for instance), not every associational dynamic is virtuous (e.g., criminal association) and truly contributes to the wellbeing of the all. That is why we have to bring more understanding to the associational phenomenon in itself and introduce fresh matters and new angles into the associational conversation. In what follows, this is what is offered.


The associational world has two sides:

  • the demand side of the equation – those who exercise their rights to associate with others


  • the supply side of the equation – the wide range of organizations and people that are on offer for those who are looking for associational options.

Both sides, in turn, offer two polar possibilities each. In what follows, we unpack them starting with the

Demand Side

How and why people choose what they choose regarding associational matters is never totally clear (and perhaps never will be). And, yet, it is crucial to shed as much light as possible on it.

We all expect to gain something when we enter into any associational relationship. Yet, that we which expect to gain may vary a great deal. In addition to this, not everybody that aims at exercising the right of association holds the same motivations, nor seeks to associate themselves with the same type of people holding the same type of values. In other words, not everybody looks for the same (or is attracted to the same) when they exercise their rights of freedom of association. In light of what has been just said, it is reasonable to state that our choices carry a lot of weight because different associational decisions may be expected to bring something different back to us.

Our choices (including associational ones), tend to resonate very strongly to how we feel in our body. For instance, if we are not feeling very well and are definitely not content in our own body, our choices tend to be in sync with that general state of being. Because of the momentum we have built, we tend to make decisions that feed our familiar state of being. If, on the other hand, if we are feeling very well in and with ourselves, our choices also tend to be in sync with that general state of being. In such context, it would not make any sense to make decisions that are capable of trashing our body. When this is what we are experiencing, we tend to make choices in respect of the wellbeing we have worked so hard to achieve.

In summation we could safely say firstly, that how one feels in the body matters a great deal regarding what one chooses to associate with and secondly, that how one exercises the right of association with others affects us back (in a good or bad way depending on the choice made).

In the following we will explore two polar associational ‘demand’ scenarios based on how people feel in their bodies.



This first scenario is about people who are either
  • settled in their bodies and seek to be confirmed in such quality or
  • who hold a clear willingness to let go of the unsettlement in which they are currently living

We are talking about people who are looking into the associational offer to choose an option that permits them either to hold onto their settlement or to heal their unsettlement. People who are settled in their own body may choose to associate with what confirms them in full. Alternatively, people who are unsettled in their body may also search for (or may come across) something that helps them to leave behind patterns of movement that they are aware ‘did not do it for them’, or to become aware that their patterns of movements have not really delivered (for) them.

Although the latter may be naturally sceptical that they may find such a piece of gold – and if they do, they also have to decide to what extent they want to associate with it or not – they are not owned by the desire to perpetuate their ill-being, hence have no interest in investing in it or in using it as a springboard to relate to the world. This is because they are no longer willing to shut down the body (on the contrary), and neither are they willing to let their old pattern of movement dominate them any longer.

They are open to what is on offer and they are also willing to give it a go if they discover that thanks to their associational choice they can feel surprisingly at ease in/with their body, that is, if they find themselves at home with no desire to upset such feeling that is confirmed by every cell in the body (the body knows truth back to front). In such a scenario, a series of questions emerge: is it possible to preserve it? To such end, what is to be done? What stands in the way of enjoying this as much as possible? When they open up to what is on offer and start appreciating how beautiful it feels in the body, they become willing to reassess their established patterns of association and try something new.

In this scenario, because of the pattern of movement they are in, their choice of field expands and they with it. On the go, they start changing what they say yes to: they say yes to their body, they say yes to the fact that the body is their most valuable resource to feel what is true and what is not, they say yes to the possibility of settlement, they say yes to the fact that they can hold what is true only if their choices are consequential with it, they say yes to letting go a pattern of movement that they know ‘does not do it for them’ and to embrace a new one.

They stay with their choice and with their bodies in total awareness and therefore they continue only if the signals they get are highly consistent and allow them to feel the beauty of themselves in a way that is also highly consistent. In this first scenario, they choose to associate with a settled/settling pattern of movement (hence, to a vibration) that they feel will unlock their potential. This choice can only be made and sustained in full association with the body. If they drop this (a choice that falls under our personal responsibility) they can no longer expect to be able to be part of a virtuous circle.

As the preceding words have made clear, this way of exercising our freedom of association does not necessarily require us to be totally settled in our body. We can also resort to our freedom to choose who to associate with in order to shift our patterns of movements for the better.



The second scenario is about people who:
  • are deeply unsettled in the body
  • are unwilling both to truly look into what causes it and heal it
  • identify themselves with the sets of behaviours caused by the unsettlement
  • want to be identified by others through their unsettled ways and, above everything else
  • wish to be confirmed in the unsettlement they have chosen to live in

Thus, we are talking about people who are looking into the associational offer to choose an option that permits them to hold on to their unsettlement – their choice of world.

When we choose from a body that is essentially ‘settled in unsettlement’, such choice tends to be one driven by unresolved/unhealed issues and emotions. A deeply unsettled body does not have too much to offer us in terms of its capacity to confirm ourselves. It is not a place we can comfortably call home either. Thus, not only we do not have a sense of home, neither is our body a home to return to. There is no place of respite for us. For that reason, we are on the move. Our life is one of permanent motion. In such scenario, we are mainly looking for relief.

Relieving ourselves from a deeply unsettled body is not such an easy task since everything (including relief itself) is set up to perpetually return to our unsettlement. Because of our primary association with unsettlement – the resulting incapacity to find respite within ourselves, and our reliance on relief from our own choices – we place ourselves in a difficult self-created situation. Managing within it requires finding a ‘place’ for us where we could feel we mean something to other people; a ‘place’ where someone pays attention to us and appears to be open to us while we continue functioning in our familiar ways (that is, in a way that generates permanent unsettlement and that requires permanent relief). The niche we carve out should also give us the possibility of feeling a sense of belonging to something that also provides us with something in exchange for being ‘just us’! (of course, this is just an illusion given that we can never be truly ‘us’ in an unsettled body).

This dynamic brings ‘magic’ into our lives. In such a context, we discover that our unsettlement is not necessarily a problem because it works also as a ‘launching platform’ that we use to ensure that we matter to others. As a result of this, naturally we embrace unsettlement even further. The reason why we do so is because we discover that our unsettled behaviours are key to guarantee the reproduction of situations where we feel ‘confirmed’/‘reaffirmed’. That is why we have no incentive to let our unsettlement go. That is when we realize that unsettlement is our best friend; the only thing we can rely upon. This is what we choose to associate with primarily, in dis-association from our body.

The continuous choice of unsettlement is a true act of desperation. When unsettlement is what runs (in) our bodies, we cannot (or better said, do not want to) picture ourselves outside of it. Walking away from it feels like disappearing; becoming invisible to others. That is also why, when we get a hold on such a ‘place’, we do not let go easily. Naturally, we tend to invest heavily in what suddenly means everything for us. In this context we tend to turn a blind eye to whatever may compromise the possibility of our continuing to live in the ‘relief-land’ we are now part of… and which also ensures our continuous unsettlement and the unsettling ways we identify with and get identified through.

Although unsettlement does not mean we lose our capacity to feel what truly goes on, our decision to hold on to it means that we are not that free to really allow ourselves to feel what is there to be felt. As a result, we become perfectly equipped to override whatever is necessary for us to keep going.

At the end of the day, it is about holding on to something – unsettlement – that we trust will help us to navigate the waters of life we choose to sail through. Yet, to be able to hold on to our unsettlement we have to (re)produce it all the time. To such an end, we have to resort to a specific pattern of movement that helps us to reduce to the limit our field of choice. This is key to be able to settle in our chosen unsettlement. We manage to create a reality that confirms our unsettlement and, hence, that our unsettling movements are the only way forward.

This scenario has made clear that people may use their rights to freedom of association to make choices that perpetuate their dis-association from the body, hence their ill-being, while also (de facto) reducing their scope of future choices. These are all logical consequences of the vibration they have said yes to.

Supply Side

Regarding this side of the associational equation, there are two polar types anyone can choose to associate with:

The first kind (or Type I) refers to people/organizations that

  • pay absolute tribute to our ability to exercise free will (meaning unrestricted, free right to entry and to exit, hence unhindered exercise of the right of freedom of association – and by extension, unhindered exercise of the right of freedom of dis-association, as well as of movement)

  • hold an absolute respect for our equal right of freedom of expression

  • do not encroach in any way on our autonomy (irrespective of whether we are somehow associated to the organization, of whether we have decided to dis-associate from it or of whether we never had an associational bond with it. In either case, we are left alone)

  • have a very clear stand against imposition/abuse of any kind

  • hold a total respect for the law, hence, for the rights of the people (starting with those associated with them).

The second kind (or Type II) refer to people/organizations that

  • do not pay absolute tribute to our ability to exercise free will: our capacity to fully and unrestrictedly exercise our rights regarding freedom of association, of dis-association and/or of movement is hampered. The amount of restriction and costs may vary a great deal but the fact remains: it is neither unrestricted nor absolute. It is also not costless

  • do not hold an absolute respect for our equal freedom to express

  • encroach on our autonomy (irrespective of whether we are somehow associated with the organization, of whether we have decided to dis-associate from it or of whether we never had an associational bond with it, we are not left alone)

  • impose/abuse

  • do not care too much for the law, hence, for the rights of the people (starting with those associated with them).

As the depiction of these polar types makes clear, the supply side of the associational world is really varied and able to meet quite well different kinds of associational demands.

In the case of the first kind (Type I), the right of freedom of association harmoniously works alongside other fundamental rights we all enjoy (e.g. right of freedom of speech, right of freedom of movement, right of religious freedom etc.) What is important to keep in mind is that for an organization to qualify as a Type I, all these features have to apply on an equal footing. Otherwise, it cannot qualify as such.

In Type I Organizations, the establishment and renewal of the associational bond is contingent on our will and depends mainly on the quality and consistency of what the organization is able to deliver to those freely choosing to associate with them.

In the case of the second kind (Type II), the structure of fundamental rights you have the right to enjoy as citizen may not (fully) apply here. What is important to keep in mind is that for an organization to qualify as a Type II, the features just laid out have to be present to some degree – in a range that goes from partially to totally. Analytically, we could refine Type II and create two sub-categories – Partial Type II and Total Type II. Independently of that analytical nuance, the fact remains: Type II is not and cannot ever be a Type I. It is a different creature altogether.

Because of their distinct features, each Type produces a specific type of dynamics. Type I’s tend to create virtuous circles and work harmoniously. Type II’s, on the other hand, are either incapable of creating virtuous circles at all or are not capable of creating circles that both hold and empower us in the same way and quality as those previously mentioned.

Because of what they have to offer, and their quite distinct vibrations, while Type I’s are more able to suit the associational demand coming from the first ‘demand scenario’, Type II’s tend to attract those who belong to the second ‘demand scenario’.


As all the preceding arguments have helped to make clear, deepening our understanding of the world of right of freedom of association requires being able to relate ‘how do we feel in the body’, what is our true agenda, how do we choose to exercise our right of association and what we say yes to (including our chosen level of vibration).

In light of all of this, we pose that:

The right to Freedom of Association cannot be fully understood without a thorough exploration of our rights to Freedom of Dis-Association and of the relationship between both sets of rights (both conceptually and practically).

In the real world, association and dis-association bundle together in packages that are as different as they are distinct. The association /dis-association package that has the potential to be a virtuous one is a distinct one. Yet, people may willingly choose other less virtuous packages.

Our relationship with the world of (dis-)association varies a great deal. Whereas not everyone has the factual right to effectively and uneventfully dis-associate from people & organizations they have freely chosen to associate with for reasons that always have a personal dimension to them, we all have the equal right both to dis-associate from the body and to choose to associate with others from that place. All of us pay for the latter fact, in one way or another.

Not only do we choose to associate with people and organizations. We equally choose to associate with evolution or with unsettlement (an association that only guarantees further dis-association from ourselves); two very distinct vibrations and ways of moving through life.

All of us have the right to choose what we choose. Hence, we hold the key to open the associational door of our choice. We exercise that right according to where are we regarding our body and to what are we willing to say yes to.

Since we are free to choose what and who to associate with, we bear full responsibility for our choices.

Extant organizations/people are not, and cannot be made, responsible for our free choices of associating with them. If we elect to choose in dis-association with our own body and choose to hold on to our own unsettlement, no organization/people can be made responsible for the consequences of our choices.

In a world where we can choose, it is up to us the nature and quality of the waters we choose to bathe in, and what happens thereafter.

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  • By Eduardo Feldman , BA Sociology (Universidad de Buenos Aires) Ph.D. Political Science

    Eduardo is interested in advancing a true agenda of well-being for us all by both furthering our understanding of where are we socially trapped (so we can let go) and, by helping people to find settlement in their own bodies.

  • Photography: Iris Pohl, Photographer and Videographer

    Iris Pohl is an expert in capturing images with a natural light style. Little to no time is needed for photoshop editing and the 'original' moment captured to represent your brand and remain in its authenticity.