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What do you make of this?  (Taken from Facebook – I don’t know who’s to blame for writing it. They certainly deserve a Hard Stare for Gratuitous Use of Comic Sans.)

My first reaction was: Poppycock. Followed by: “How silly to add ‘period’ to the end of the statement; as if there’s nothing further to say!” We are, after all, talking about Free Will. There’s quite a lot one could say about that.

I concur that personal responsibility and self-awareness are Good Things. I also feel there’s little to be gained from a life spent blaming others, grumbling and feeling sorry for oneself.

And I totally reject the idea that anyone is solely responsible for their decisions and choices.

Here’s why…

For starters; to suggest no-one or nothing is to blame for our choices is also to say that no-one/nothing is to thank. Many of the choices I make – including the choice to write this – can be attributed to wonderful people I’ve met over the years. People who deserve credit for providing learning, encouragement and advice.

Much of my work involves talking with people about new ways to view their world and one another (and, sometimes, their dogs).  I intend to influence thought, behaviour and choices. I like to think I support self-esteem and that I encourage people to have a positive impact on their world.

(A philosophical aside: does this ‘intent to influence’ make me a brainwasher, or a Thought Leader? Is there a difference..?  Are there times when it’s ‘good’ to influence people’s choices? How do we decide what’s ‘good’?)

If I influence choice in a constructive way then it follows that people, and situations, can have an adverse effect. Trauma, people that undermine self-esteem, habits, addictions – all affect choice.  Furthermore, people who love and seek to protect us can restrict our choices. As can where you live and the resources or opportunities available – ie the world you’re born into.

For example (there are many – I’m sure you can think of them – I present but a few; I’ve homework to do):

  • If you are repeatedly told you are worthless and will never amount to anything; that’s bound to shape the choices you make. Would you view university as a choice, if you’ve been told – by those you trust – that you’re not smart enough? Can you choose to work towards greatness if you’re told by your loved ones to ‘be realistic’?
  • In a care setting; if people tell you that you are vulnerable, that you are disabled, that it’s not safe for you to live independently, that you are only capable of doing certain types of work – how much choice do you have?  Conversely, if an independent life means having to work more, live alone, pay bills and have lots more to worry about – it doesn’t sound like much of a choice.
  • If you throw tantrums, and get a result that pleases you, you might develop the habit of throwing a tantrum every time you want that result. How much of a choice is that?
  • If you’re born into a rural community in Africa, where everyone has to work together to survive, and where there are no opportunities to go to school; what choices do you have?  Would you know that other choices exist?

This is not to say that people with restricted choices are unhappy: a nomad born in the Mongolian steppes is likely perfectly happy to live that life. However, surely our nomad’s environment, culture, family, economy and education affect choice?

Everything that happens in our lives shapes who we are, how we see the world, the choices we can choose from, and the choices that we make. I’m influencing your choices right now: just as you influence everyone you ever come into contact with.

As we grow, emotionally and intellectually, we develop self awareness and an understanding of what we want from life. Or possibly we develop enlightenment and contentment with the life we have. Maybe all of that. Hopefully, we will also encounter people that nurture us.  These ingredients should help us to make ‘good’ choices that lead us towards the ultimate goal; happiness.

I don’t believe that any choice we ever make is entirely our own. To suggest so is to ignore the vast complexity within ourselves and of the social/environmental systems we are a part of.


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