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Freedom of Choice
What is freedom? I would define it thus: Freedom is the ability to make choices and pursue those choices.
We all have infinitely more freedom than we realize, because we have more choices than we realize. Remember the old saying "The only things you have to do are die and pay your taxes"? Actually, you don't have to pay your taxes. You could go to jail instead. So even that is your choice--As is almost everything else that you do.
Unfortunately, we typically think in terms of what we "have" to do. We "have to go to work", "we have to go to school", "we have to finish such and such project". In each case, we are in the habit of saying we "have" to do something or other. And I emphasize the word "habit". Like many of our learned habits, this is not a very healthy one. But like all habits, it can be broken. (And what is the best way to break a habit? Drop it.)
This habit is unhealthy simply because when we tell ourselves we "have" to do something, it subtly implies someone or something is forcing us to do it against our will. This is never a pleasant thought. So by the mere thought of "having" to do something, we are putting ourselves in a negative mood. We are certainly not looking forward to something we "have" to do against our will!
But the reality is, if we stop to think about it, we do not "have" to do all these things. We are free to not do them if we choose.
The problem is, of course, that there are always consequences for our choices. Always. We can not make a choice without some consequence. The consequence may be good or bad. It may be small or large. It may have short term or long term impact. But there are always consequences.
If we stop to think about it, we generally would decide that what we thought we "had" to do is often the most preferable of our choices in a given situation. The reason it is most preferable is because of the undesirable consequences of the alternatives. Take for example the choice of paying our taxes. Most of us would certainly rather pay our taxes than go to jail.
When we consider the consequences of our options, we can make an informed decision. And in realizing we made a conscious choice based on our personal preferences, we are more likely to "own" the decision--to take responsibility for it and to realize it is what we wanted to do at the time, given the circumstances and likely consequences at the time of the decision.
One more note on our ability to make choices. Frequently we don't realize we have as many choices as we actually do, because we are so conditioned and programmed to thinking in certain ways.
This programming leads directly to habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. Our habits then become ruts which serve as self-imposed limits on our ability to see our range of choices.
Here is a small example: I was having lunch with someone who suddenly said "Oh, crap! I have to get back to the office." I asked, "Do you really "have" to? What would happen if you didn't go back right away?" "Well" she said, "nothing really, it's just that I hate to be late when I know my boss will see me come in". So I said, "What if you called her and told her you'd be 15 minutes late? Then what would happen?" She said, "I don't know, I never thought about that."
She called the office and her boss said, "No problem". So there was another option open to her that she had never considered. In fact, she truly believed, just a few seconds earlier, that she "had" to get back. Again, she had more freedom than she realized because she hadn't considered all her options.
Our values, beliefs, our self-concepts frequently lock us into rigid, repetitive, and often self-defeating patterns. For example, how many times have you seen someone repeat the same pattern of mistakes in relationships? Far too many stay in unhealthy relationships because they don't realize they have the choice to leave. They don't realize they have the option of breaking the cycle by making changes in themselves in order to attract healthier partners. They don't realize they have the choice to recreate themselves and their lives. They don't realize they can even break family cycles and patterns which have gone for generations. Instead, they place artificial limitations on their children in the form of diminished self-esteem, or self-destructive beliefs and attitudes, for example. Such people are simply too locked into their systems, their own worlds.
How can we be truly free, then, if we do not seek out all available options? How can we be free if we allow ourselves to be prisoners to our past programming? How can we be free if we do not take charge of our lives and make decisions based upon our own preferences? The more we open ourselves to the plethora of choices available to us, the more freedom we will experience. Though this freedom may feel burdensome if there is a temporary sense of lost security, I believe that our quest for freedom is instinctive, evolutionary and inescapable if we are to reach our hightest selves and achieve our highest level of happiness.
Copyright 1995, 1998 Steve Hein
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