Man is a masterpiece of creation if for no other reason than that, all the weight of evidence for determinism notwithstanding, he believes he has free will. — Georg C. Lichtenberg
This is probably my favorite concept in BodyTalk: the fallacy of control.
It tends to generate a lot of resistence in people, which I hardly understand, because it doesn’t affect the way you live your life at all, except in a good way.
Take a menu….
You’re in a restaurant. The server hands you the menu. It’s 8 pages full of delicious-sounding food. How do you decide? Well, first things first, you don’t want to spend more than 20 bucks. You don’t want pasta. You don’t want chicken. You don’t want a salad; you’re really hungry. So even with all those choices, you still narrow them really quickly. And of the handful that are left, you choose roast beef and baked potato, because this is a new restaurant to you and you don’t want to risk them screwing up your meal. Who can screw up roast beef and baked potato, right?
You had free will. At least, it looked like you did. You were given the open choice of anythign on the menu, and probably some things that weren’t on the menu, had you had the audacity to ask for them.
But you are also the product of your preferences, your paradigms, your family, your culture, your experiences and your history. And they all conspire to make you pretty damn predictable. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you are completely inable to act in any way that’s not congruent with who you are. Hence, no free will.
And it’s at this point that people say, “Hey, waitaminute! I still chose. That’s free will.” Ok, sure. You’re completely responsible for all your decisions, wrong or right. You’re responsible for outcomes, you’re responsible for reactions and interpretations.
What if, given this interpretation of the world, you could stop standing in judgement of yourself and others. You would understand completely that, given the tools and resources available, everyone acts as best they can.
You would have compassion.
You would release worry.
It’s made me more trusting of the outcome, but I suppose it’s not required. You could go all fatalistic and refuse to interact at all…that’s fine, too.
I don’t need to convince you (by this argument, a certain percentage of you are incapable of seeing the point), but for myself, I have found it to be tremendously freeing. By now we’ve probably all heard about the paradox of choice, and how the myriad possibilities in our lives can leave us crippled with anxiety, especially as Seth Godin and others exhort us to push the limits of what we think is possible.
Under this premise, whether you do or do not is irrelevent next to the larger, more important question of ‘what do you feel like doing?’ Once controlling the outcome becomes a non-issue, then you just do whatever you want/need to do.
But then you cannot reasonably expect to judge others, either. This part’s the tricky part. It wasn’t too hard for me, at least, to kind of ‘let go’ of the more control-oriented aspects of my life (now when I’m control-oriented, I acknowledge that it’s all for me anyway.) But it’s hard to watch people who are hurting, people who are insensitive, rude, or manipulative or people who you judge don’t understand, and not say, “Well, I would never…”
That might be true. But if you were this person, you would only have the same tools, the same resources, the same outlook as they currently had at their disposal, and your options would probably look a lot different.
Suddenly, Buddhism makes total sense. There is a boddhisatva in everyone. A veil comes down from your eyes and you see that everyone is simply struggling, and you feel immense compassion for them, because they’re simply caught by forces they can’t control. As are you. As are we all.
So, since we are having such a lovely round table discussion this week, I will leave it completely open to you, my pretties: Tell me what you think about all this, please. And talk amongst yourselves; that was certainly a lovely thing to see.