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Wouldn’t you love to think free will is only an abstract concept that belongs in some classroom? So would I. I’m not fond of making big decisions. But if you look at the “new” insights popping up around us like dandelions in a manicured lawn, you can’t help but see that our choices in food, self-concept, exercise, romantic partners, politicians, careers…you name it—those choices mold our present and impact the future. And the impact ripples outward, since we live in an ocean of humanity.
We’ve all run into numerous references to free will in traditional religions, but that’s only the beginning. The trendy focus on intention—envisioning precisely what you want in order to help it happen—is simply a statement of free will. The conversation about loving yourself so you can share a positive presence with the world is another expression. Some religions tell us we must be willing to ask for help to allow divine guidance to act, because our angels or spirit guides refuse to violate our free will.
We want to see “bad” people held accountable, but the fact is, we are all accountable for what we do. Even if we seek to control others or allow ourselves to be controlled, we are exercising personal choice. What kind of responsibility do we bear when we assume control of another person—or lots of people, neutralizing their free will?
When I began teaching, I was encouraged to use literature to help my students comprehend personal responsibility, critical thinking, and consequences. But then a parents’ group came to the school claiming that we were teaching humanism and only God is in charge. When we stopped teaching personal responsibility, parents blamed us for creating young adults who were thoughtless. Now critics claim that much of education is designed to indoctrinate young people to parrot back pat answers and obey. They say many Americans are losing the clever individuality, humor, and compassion for which we were known. The change was a choice.
I’m not a philosopher, but I can easily understand that choice makes goodness meaningful. If you aren’t able to choose to do something bad, then you can’t really claim to be good. You’re simply following the rut. I suppose the same can be true of people who aren’t given an option of being good. I think of the boy soldiers—children forced to kill—or little girls forced into prostitution. Good and evil seem like meaningless terms when there is no choice. Only extraordinary people can find extraordinary exits from lives they’re forced to live.
The scope of free will can be almost overwhelming. I once believed only love is immortal, but then I read several accounts of near-death experiences and past life regressions. Whether or not you accept any of those accounts as reality, you can’t avoid the frequent references to free will. Some believe we choose the lessons we are sent to work on in this life. Some believe we choose our parents. Some believe we choose when, if ever, we cross over to the next realm after we die. Even hard-science minds believe that we alter our circumstances by the ways in which we react to what happens around us.
Recognizing and accepting the power and importance of free will is one of those hard realities of maturity, the voice of the soul. Every moment holds a choice. Regardless of circumstances, we’re always in charge of how we react. Allowing others as much freedom as possible may be an act of faith.