Fork in the Road: The price of freedom
You lose control of the situation, you’re reliant on others who don’t respect your needs/schedule and you ultimately find yourself trying to cater to everyone else’s specific demands, instead of satisfying your own. You get to a point wherein you frankly just feel like telling all those problematic types to f*** off, but now dear that wouldn’t be cordial would it? Not to mention, it would certainly dwindle down that guest list!
But there’s always a silver lining. Indeed, my wedding planning woes provide the perfect backdrop for this month’s lesson on the concept of “freedom.” How do you define it? How do you recognize it? And is there such a thing as “true” freedom?
Psychologically speaking, “freedom” is defined as a concept wherein one has personal agency: the ability to think and act independently according to their own merits and directives. In other words, freedom is akin to “free will.” As I’m sure you’ve noted however this definition is not ideal in that it excludes from it anyone who adheres to religious or philosophical doctrine that dictate all of their actions are “pre-determined” by some external entity… but that’s the least of our concerns! Let’s talk “societal freedom” for a moment.
Many moons ago, our buddy Freud observed some basic traits about human beings. He hypothesized that the reason we evolved from nomadic competing tribespeople to agrarian farmers living within established cultural groups was because we realized the benefit of “collective” society – there’s power in numbers. Seeing as our ancestors merged from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, in order to ensure group harmony, the “law” (or laws, in this case) as they say, had to be “laid down.” How does this tie into the concept of freedom? Well, by joining forces, and in order to benefit from those joined forces, our ancestors had to sacrifice certain “individual allowances” in exchange for serving the “greater good.” More simply put, in order to live in “civilized society,” we agree to both written and unwritten laws, regulations, social norms and mores even though they place restraint on our “individual” freedoms.
Much of Westernized culture has attempted to combat this self-imposed restraint by implementing political systems like democracy, wherein everyone, in theory, is said to have a “vote” and the “freedom” to make their “voice” heard... at least when it comes to “important” issues. Of course that opens up a whole other can of worms because who has the authority to dictate what constitutes “important” for highly diverse populations? But, we don’t have time to get into a complex deconstruction of the many issues with democracy (or political systems in general).
Now, let’s temporarily ignore the aforementioned potential religious, sociocultural and political barriers to “freedom” and instead focus simply on the individual. I ask you again, is there such a thing as “true” freedom?
Think about what and who made you into the “individual” you are today. Think about why you believe what you do. Think about what factors contributed to making you excel in certain areas over others. Think about what advantages simply being born on this side of the planet afforded you.
How much of “you” has been determined by your OWN choices versus choices entirely outside of your control (e.g. social class) and choices made by others for you (e.g. your parents)?
Okay, okay so now you’re going to argue, “Well, yeah, of course as a kid, I didn’t have the cognitive capabilities to ‘find’ myself and therefore determine my own future, BUT I can do so now given that I’m an adult.” Not so fast, rabbit. The very choices that lie before you do not comprise every POSSIBILITY but merely the ones that are feasible given your environment. The future looks much brighter for someone with a high IQ living in Canada than it does for that same individual if he/she were to find themselves marooned in an area heavily guarded by the Mexican cartel, for example.
Enough naysaying, though – let’s get to the crux of the issue. What exactly do you have freedom over in your life? PLENTY! Moreover, plenty of VERY important things. You can and do choose every day of your life through your actions whether or not you desire to be a good and moral person. You choose whether or not you’re going to allow yourself to be influenced by cheap thrills and marketing ploys. You choose whether or not you’re going to make excuses for your missteps or whether you will take responsibility for your actions. You choose to allow yourself to care (or not) what others think of you. Of course, all of these choices have consequences and this brings me round full circle to my increasingly accommodating wedding planning dilemma:
Had I not at some point determined in my life as an adult to be the kind of individual who is very “other-oriented” and considerate, I wouldn’t currently be ripping out my hair trying to ensure everyone’s requests are met over my own!
This month’s lesson: One must first acknowledge the nature of their circumstances before they can assess their possible choices and “freedoms.” One must further acknowledge the circumstances of others before determining what options are available to them. Lesson two: To paraphrase Sting, “every choice you make [someone] will be ‘watching’ you.”
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