On freedom, choice and responsibility

A conversation with a young woman

I was in communication with a young woman recently and the conversation went something like this (this is the best I can do from memory):

Me: “Is the light on inside?   Is joy present on the inside?”

Her: “No.  It hasn’t been present for a long time.”

Me:  Why not? What is getting in the way?”

Her: “I feel trapped – living this life, here with my parents, my family. Sometimes, I think about running away and starting a new life, my life.”

Me: “What is preventing you from taking that step, moving out, living your own life?”

Her: “The impact it will have on my parents, what it will do to them.  Sometimes, I get so angry with them that I hate them for keeping me here, living this life.”

Me: “I see, you get that you have choice and you have made the choice to live with your parents and the life that goes with that.  I don’t get why you are blaming your parents.  Your parents are not responsible and do not deserve your blame/bitterness/anger. You are free to leave any time you wish.  Yet, you choose to stay.  So you are the person who is responsible for the life that you live and your experience of living.  You are responsible for your unhappiness, you bring this on to your self.”

Her: “Don’t say that.  If  believed that then I’d want to kill myself!”

Freedom, choice and responsibility

Yes, we are thrown into this world and we don’t get a say in where we are born, whether we are born male or female, healthy or unhealthy, who are parents are, what kind of circumstances we are born into, what culture we are born into, what schools we go to (if we go to school) etc.   Yet at some point we grow up and are no longer children, no longer dependent and at the mercy of others.  Like this young woman we leave home, we go to university, we get an education, we dabble/experience the bigger world, we get to stand on our own two feet….

I say that the process of ‘growing up’ is coming face to face with freedom, choice and responsibility. As beings-in-the-world we are faced with choice.  You could say being confronted with choices and making a choice is the evidence of our freedom. Even in the most difficult of circumstances where what we can and cannot do is severely limited we still get to choose: we get to choose our attitude towards ourselves, others and the circumstances in which we are embedded.  Put differently, sometimes we get to choose between two flavours of ice cream say chocolate or vanilla.  And sometimes life presents us with only chocolate and even though we get only chocolate we are free to choose  our attitude, our stance towards chocolate being present in our lives.

With choice comes responsibility.  Put differently, we are responsible for our lives and our experience of living – just as it is and just as it is not. Look, sometimes I feel sorry for myself when I look at how my children behave.  And when I look at the situation honestly/courageously I see that I am totally responsible for what is so.  When my children were younger, many people – wife, parents, parents-in-law, friends – pointed out that I was allowing my children too much freedom, not setting strong boundaries, not being controlling enough.  And I ignored all of them. Why?  I was committed to allowing my children the widest degree of freedom. And I reasoned that as they got older I could talk with them, reason with them and they would regulate their behaviour so as to get on/along with the people around them.  My theory did not work out as I had anticipated that it would work out.

What is the ultimate choice that confronts us?

I say that the ultimate choice that confronts us is the choice of owning our lives or not.  Owning my life is owning freedom, choice and responsibility.  I am free to make choices and I am responsible for the choices that I make and that which flows from and shows up from the choices that I make.  So, ultimately, each of us takes, is taking a stand towards freedom, choice and responsibility – whether we are present to making this choice or not.

You and I can look honestly at lives and face up to/get that we are the authors of our lives:  that we get a say in how we live our lives, how our lives turn out, our experience of living.  As such we can invent/project/live from and live into possibilities that move-touch-inspire us.

Or we can pretend that we are victims (like this young lady) and when we are confronted with ownership/authorship of our lives, our experience of living, we can strive to shut out this conversation  that confronts us with our freedom, choice and responsibility.

What choice are you making?  Are you owning your life and your experience of living?   If you are owning and being responsible for your life just as it is and just as it is not then who is owning / being responsible for your life?  

I know where I stand: the most powerful place to stand for me, is to own my life and my experience of living just as it is and just as it is not.  And being the owner, the author, of my life I am free to imagine and take different paths through it. This matters because it puts hope, possibility, new worlds into my life, my living. It is this stance that opens up a transformation in our living, in our world.

Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant working at the intersection of strategy, customer, and technology. Combine a tendency to think strategically with a penchant for getting my hands dirty at the coalface of implementation.

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