Free Will

If you’ve ever attended a workshop in which you were tasked with figuring out what your true values were, you may have been surprised at what you learned about yourself. It is one thing to generate an idealistic list of what should be important, but when it came to the ranking of your personal values, you had to figure out what was the most important, often making difficult decisions between freedom, family, and sometimes god.

Me, I choose freedom over everything else, probably because one of my greatest fears is the loss of it. Fear of institutionalism is what kept me from getting in too much trouble growing up, kept me from acting out temperamental impulses in my adult life, and hopefully will keep me from sharing any inner voices I may hear in my later life. But not everyone is as afraid of captivity as I am, and may even think that they are exercising free will in choosing it.

Let me explain this. My mother, who, some of you may know as Betty Jo, and others may know of as Elizabeth, forced me to understand many of these difficult choices long before I ever read a self-help book or attended any workshops. Whenever the opportunity presented itself to teach me a lesson, she would turn me toward it and give me a little push; I think it was her way of preparing me for a big, bad world in which she would not always be there to tell me what to do. So very lioness of her.

One of those opportunities arose as we witnessed the Jonestown self-poisonings through the lens of the TV news. Mom turned to me and asked, If I joined a cult, would you come and try to save me?

Good daughter that I thought I was, I automatically replied that of course I would. She almost gasped and looked at me as if I was a stranger. Clearly I had not learned anything. Apparently sensing that she had to be ruthless in making her point, she went in for the kill. Who are you to decide my life, what I choose to believe, with whom or where I want to live? Who are you to interfere with my free will? Promise me that you will never try to save me if I decide to join a cult.

Although feeling guilty that I had incurred her disfavor, I still was not ready to give in. How would I know if it was truly her free will? What if she had been brainwashed? Would there be any point that she would want to be rescued? How would she let me know when that time came?

Mom could not answer any of these questions to my satisfaction, and so when I finally promised her that I would not try to rescue her, I knew it to be a lie.

And yet, there was a philosophical truth to what she said.  Were the tables to be turned, I would hope that my life decisions are indeed made of my own free will. Who is anyone to say that my path is wrong for me? I would be truly insulted and resentful of any kind of intervention, any threat to my personal freedom to enhance or destroy my own life.

Come to think of it, she had a point. Real freedom is the ability to mess yourself up, to make mistakes, to hurt yourself and even gain a few scars. I suppose what that really means is, freedom is life.