Freedom from Stupidity
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2015
Freedom is a curious thing. I suppose there never is complete freedom; unseen forces exert influence and modify action. But we have the power to limit the impact, directing our futures more in line with our wishes.
Freedom is neither conformity nor rebellion. Freedom is not witnessed through thoughtless responses but discovered through mindful choice. We express our freedom by carefully evaluating complex facts and then determining the best course of action. A mindful approach frees the chains of careless reactions and the painful consequences of stupidity. We are not condemned to bad habits; we can escape the unhealthy patterns of our past.
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Our society, social groups and relationships pressure for unquestioned conformity. Some social groups paradoxically expect followers to rebel against social norms but unquestionably accept the group’s own radical dogma. The current political climate provides daily examples of this. Any followers questioning the groups direction are condemned. But we know better—blindness invites abuse. Whether we automatically rebel or conform, we are blindly reacting, instead of using our powers of reason. Many substitute mindful thought before action with cognitive energy to blame, excuse, and justify.
I am fascinated during the political campaign season how rarely commentators’ support shifts from one candidate to another; even with a constant flow of new information. It appears once publicly committed, the blinders prevent any further examining logic. And we vote a fool into office.
A recent event piqued my interest. A senator was condemned as unpatriotic for questioning the success of a combat mission. The administration proclaimed it un-American and disrespectful to question an operation where a courageous soldier’s life was lost. Is a botched operation not possible? Could mistakes been made unnecessarily endangering lives of young solders? Blindly we accept a nonsensical remark, dismissing questions, and pledging our allegiance to the stupidity.
Freedom to Choose: Liberty from unseen influencing forces is obtained through bringing the unknown to light. Only when we clearly see can we navigate the complexities of choice.
My memory fades but has not drifted into compete amnesia, forgetting two years of campaign rhetoric condemning every previous skirmish as complete disasters—many courageous soldiers died in each of these. Neither political party should be awarded unquestioned authority to act, while condemning dissenters as unpatriotic when they enact their right to think.
The same self-deceit occurs in our personal lives; instead of shifting gears, we follow the trajectory of emotion and then justify.
Following the life we desire requires self-discipline. We must pause before acting, preventing unhealthy impulses from dictating our lives. Freedom is born during that pause. The health of our futures, the strength of our nation, the freedom to choose requires courageous thought not blind following. We engage in purposeful effort after mindfully mulling through the thoughts and feelings. Our personal desires will occasionally conflict with the expectations of other people, groups, and governments. Maybe we are right—maybe not. Slow down to examine the difference, courageously speaking up when expedient to do so.
Some social norms are worthy of continuing while others are outdated and harmful; but social norms typically go unnoticed and unexamined. We must struggle to free ourselves from these chains. The norms may also be bad, containing dreadful biases, outdated approaches, and hateful reactions. Stop, think, and be free from this silliness.
Intentional thought, careful scrutiny of facts, openness to differing opinions frees us from harmful emotions, inviting flexibility and complexity into our character, freeing us from the stupidity of the past.