BY: T. F. Murphy | November 2015 (edited 2018)
Freedom of choice is earned through mulling over possibilities, evaluating conflicting data and then determining a course of action.
We follow political groups, religious leaders, and self-improvement gurus blindly sacrificing freedom of choice by giving them power to direct our lives. We act without scrutinizing beliefs or fact checking rhetoric. Some, conversely, reject all authority, thoughtlessly following their own chaotic impulses of emotions and addictions. Whether we blindly follow or ignorantly reject, we lose the liberty to direct our lives. We forfeit our freedom to choose.
Society, social groups and relationships function smoothly (at least in the moment) by listlessly submitting. Sacrificing the self creates shallowness in the group, narrowing interest and relying and a sparsity of ideas. When driven hopelessly for acceptance, we fear the challenges of self-expression and displaying differences. Individuality creates some conflict. Opening discussion to a variety of neglected ideas. Head-strong leaders recoil at this. They prefer simpleness and blind submission, expecting group identity to morph the individuals in an ever-expanding sea of grey, sacrificing the vibrant colors of differences. They proclaim in a variety of words: “If you accept everything I say, you are smart; If you challenge, question or reject what I say, you are an idiot and must be stopped.”
A healthier path requires, we examine facts, consider external wisdom from history and experts, then balancing our investigations with personal experience and values. We can’t expect others to thoughtlessly bend to our wills but also don’t gelatinously form to the wills of others. Thoughtful responses are not universally accepted. Critical thought challenges the dogma of strictly structured organizations; threatening strongly held beliefs often invokes violence; recent history has shown this. Healthy ethical debates give way to manipulative threats from closed- and simple-minded fools. Senators are routinely threatened, and news organizations are mailed bombs. Obviously, such tactics are not from supporters of democracy.
Many groups encourage and engage in investigations that discredit opposition but simultaneously condemn any internal probing. Looking into internal dysfunction is considered radical and disruptive. The group expectation is to critically analyze opposing doctrine and blindly accept their own radical dogma without unbiased studies or supporting data.
Political and religious organizations that oppose generally accepted principals berate the blind followers of the past, encouraging new openness to commonly ignored facts; but when members of the rebellion question the new leader, the questioning follower becomes unwelcomed and expelled. Even in rebellion, freedom of thought is discouraged.
"Healthy ethical debates give way to manipulative threats from closed- and simple-minded fools."
We need courage to skeptically evaluate facts and act outside of socially accepted paths.
Loss of freedom occurs in the intimate realms of the mind, foregoing mindful considerations for habitual reaction. Outside influences trigger emotions and we thoughtlessly react, often damaging long-term intentions. We react; then justify. A mindful choice involves a momentary pause, considering goals, mulling over possible choices, and finally followed by action. This is, of course, ideal; life is more fluid—and complex. However, we usually can purposely pause in the moment of spiked emotions and create a brief separation.
True freedom emerges from the fog of experience when we mindfully ponder different courses of action, recognize involved feelings, and then evaluate.
Mindful thought isn’t perfect. No matter how careful a decision, we never expose every underlying bias. We are habitual creatures. Habits serve evolutionary purposes, unconscious reactions free mental space. Many behaviors are unconsciously performed. Healthy routines direct behaviors, efficiently organizing time and accomplishing necessary tasks with little self-discipline required. When structured acts of habit are healthy, we seamlessly accomplish important tasks, leaving mental energy for other explorations. Our days flow smoothly when infused with structure. But initially, we must implement healthy structure through thoughtful attention, not haphazard adoptions.
Freedom carelessly squandered for the laziness of mind is costly. By losing the wisdom of thought, we aimlessly wander; victims to the unpredictableness of complexity. Our responses must be flexible enough to adjust with changing environments. Maximizing the freedom of choice requires attention to a variety of contributing elements. Many habits remain hidden, no matter how attentive. With purposeful explorations, we stumble on occasional revelations, exposing hidden mechanisms that require extracting and replacing. Many biases ominously obscure the darker corners of our being, leaving us blind to many evils lurking beyond the consciousness. This uncertainty of self frightens us, losing the security of control.
Mindfulness, overtime, exposes many of the simplistic blinding beliefs. By inviting acceptance of complexity, with the myriad of unknowns, we welcome intriguing explorations into our souls, expelling beliefs that are breeding grounds of harmful biases, unfairly attributing causes to outside forces and groups, while distracting attention from the true irritants in our lives.
Many beliefs persist over many generations because they have embodied truth. Other beliefs are formed in ignorance and are harmful. Misguided traditions passed from family to family, generation to generation. True freedom fearlessly works to separate the healthy from the harmful, carefully sorting causes and motivations, to create a peaceful, loving and flourishing individual and society.
Be courageous and be free.