By Joe Carella, Psy. D., Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Executive Coach in Success Through Self-Knowledge
“Humans are among the very few animals that eat without being hungry, drink without being thirsty and make love in all seasons.” I loved this comment in Dr. Bill Anton’s blog, The Ability to Choose – A Uniquely Human Trait, I am absolutely an animal that eats when I am not hungry, and I fight with myself all the time about why I am doing it and why I don’t stop. In reality, I can stop and I am closer to the acceptance of the fact that I am choosing not to stop. The only exception for me though is my mother’s tomato sauce and meatballs. I have no choice but to eat way more than I need! Those of you who have had the unique pleasure of enjoying her pasta know exactly what I mean!
The blog also reminded me of one of my favorite authors and theoreticians in psychology – Dr. Irvin Yalom. In his book, Existential Psychotherapy, Yalom described the four givens of existence and how the core conflicts of each given impact psychological disorders. His work provided the conceptual framework for my clinical competency exam in graduate school. I was free to choose the conceptual framework and fortunately I chose well, as I successfully defended my work. Yalom wrote, “The universe is contingent; everything that is, could have been created differently, and that the human being is not only free, but is doomed to freedom.” When I first read that phrase, “doomed to freedom” I was disturbed. I had felt empowered by the belief that I am the author of my own existence. Yet, upon further review, I was able to again a deeper understanding of the awesome responsibility accompanies Yalom’s view of freedom (which is not about political liberties). Rather than relying upon some grand design that provides me with a method to understand why I exist or what happens when I die, how to choose a career, or what makes life meaningful, I actually have to decide that myself. It is no wonder that we run to religion, political affiliations, substance misuse or some ideology to manage the anxiety that accompanies the reality that it is up to ME. So what do we do with this awesome responsibility and freedom? Accept it and pursue self-knowledge with a dogged determination. We are imperfect, but through this pursuit, we are much more likely to find our true and authentic selves.
I will leave you with a song. The band Rush is one of my favorites and they just happen to have a song entitled, Freewill. It is evidence that we all struggle with how to be the best authors of our own lives and manage the anxiety and conflict that is our freedom. Thus, I encourage you to listen to it or if Rock music is not your favorite style of music – read the lyrics. I hope that you do choose to do so – but you are certainly free to ignore my recommendation and I respect that as well.
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will.