the human condition: free will, decisions (choices), and consequences

The constraints of the human condition are painful.  One of the more painful aspects of being human and living in this very imperfect world as imperfect beings is that of making mistakes, poor or seriously flawed decisions.  Whatever is done is done, and cannot be undone.  We are constrained by the linear nature of time’s progression in this material plane of existence.  No amount of regret, remorse, or guilt can undo what has been done. Our decisions (or call these choices) do have consequences, at times tragic in scope.  And, we freely make decisions (except in those rather rare situations where we are under serious duress).  Making mistakes is also a blow to our pride and reminds us that we are frail, fallible beings.

There are some who believe that we are as puppets in the hands of – and at the mercy of – puppet masters (higher entities) and thus have no true free will.  One comes across this view in some “occult” literature.  Others believe that our karma (from past lives) determines much of what happens to us.  Many are fatalistic.

I think that we do have free will, and not simply because Christianity teaches that we do have free will.  Free will means that we are responsible for our choices and actions. Looking back on the poor decisions made during my life (I have made many mistakes, and sadly are still making mistakes), in each of these situations there was an alternative course that could have been chosen.  Even in a somewhat fast-moving “crisis”, there was a brief time where I consciously chose to do one thing rather than another.  In some major mistakes, there actually was a part of my mind saying to me at the time “No, do not rush into this.” or “Is this really the right way to go?”  or “Why the hurry?  Take more time to think it through.”  If only I had listened to that “little voice”, that inner voice of shall we say inner wisdom.  My point is that in almost all decisions there was that time, in some instances very short in duration, where I consciously chose to pursue one course of action rather than another, or rather than opting for doing nothing.  (Sometimes doing nothing is the best, least hazardous course of all, especially so when one’s mind is agitated or stressed.)

Why do we not listen to that inner voice?  Call it what you will – our intuition, our conscience, perhaps our sub-conscious, our guardian angel, etc.  Why do we hurry into making choices that have profound impacts on our lives and the lives of others?

This is difficult to answer.  There are several factors in play.  For me, it appears that we are so geared to wanting and even expecting quick resolutions to problems that we often hurry decisions so as to try to achieve quick solutions.  We may feel that we have to act quickly even when such rapid action is not necessary.  The inner voice that counsels caution and suggests considering alternatives is thus ignored as that would take too much time.  A very real danger in taking a decision in haste is that we are too focused on short-term effects of the decision and neglect to fully consider the longer term effects or consequences!  As well, many of us really do not like the stress of having to make a choice in certain areas of our lives and wish to get the process over with as rapidly as possible. We are uncomfortable with any prolonged uncertainty.

Emotions undeniably come into play in the decision making process.  When emotions overrule the reason, we can be at grave risk of making a poor decision, a non-rational decision.  (Later, we think “How (or Why) did I do that?!”)  Anger, frustration, impatience, and despair all serve to cloud our reason and impair our ability to make constructive choices.  Be on guard against them!  The anger and frustration or despair that we feel can be so strong that these basically drown out the inner voice that says “Give this more time. There may be another course to take.”.  Courses of action that I chose when I was angry and frustrated never worked out well.  In fact, some such choices were terribly destructive and caused me (and others) much pain, loss, regret, remorse and guilt.

What can we do to make better choices and avoid those choices that are destructive to others and to ourselves, that have such negative, painful consequences?

First, consciously attempt to take the needed step back and look at the bigger picture. This is not easy to do given that emotions are usually very strong and we are mentally agitated. Slow the process down.  Unless you do need to call an ambulance or the fire department or the police, many “crises” can be managed over at least a little longer time frame.

Second, while taking more time, and striving to listen to your “inner voice” or intuition, consider alternative courses and the longer term effects of any choice you make. Remember, you will be living with the consequences of your decision.

Seek the counsel of others (whom you have confidence in) who are at arms’ length from the situation and can more easily be objective and may be able to offer alternative solutions (worthy of consideration) that you may have overlooked or would be unaware of.  If you are married, involve your spouse in any major decision as the choice you make will impact your spouse as well as yourself.

Pray about your situation and any decisions you need to make.   Pray for guidance.  This is no trite remark.  One thing that I have learned is to never underestimate the power of prayer.  Do not be so proud that you do not ask loved ones and friends to add their prayers to yours.

Try to look at the big picture and the longer term effects of any choice you make.  Consider whether the actions you will take are constructive for/to others and to yourself.  Seek the counsel of others.  Take enough time.  Pray about it.  Then, when you are confident you are making the right choice, go forward with it.

As to the human condition, I have always had a problem believing that we should glorify suffering, as some religions would have us do.  Plenty of suffering, in various forms, comes our way all throughout our lives.  We need not seek suffering as it continually seeks us out. (It is no virtue to be a masochist.)

Hopefully, these thoughts have served to help a few readers.  Life is difficult.  It is a struggle the whole way through, but we can choose not to give in to despair.

Perhaps, if we include a picture, folks will read the essay.  Here, from our essay on rubber stamps (about one year ago), is an image of sundry stamps (a pheasant taking flight, a tea cup, and Chinese New Year firecrackers).

sundry stamps

Thanks for reading.