(Image credit Julie Manzerova)
Remember growing up, and rolling your eyes as your parents droned, “With privilege comes responsibility” for the hundredth time? Or is that just me?
Most of us humans believe we deeply value and desire freedom. This is certainly part of the story, but the reality is rather more counterintuitive. In practice, freedom creates a “dizzying” (as Kierkegaard would put it) array of possibility and choices that invoke incredible anxiety in most of us.
This can certainly be seen among Millennials like myself, many of whom grew up around the idea that you can be anything you want to be, and that you should pursue your passion. But what if you don’t know what your passion is? What if there are twenty-three things you could potentially imagine doing? What if you’re the type who doesn’t want to miss a single opportunity and thus struggles to settle for one (or two, or three) careers at a time?
(While particularly relevant to our time, these ideas are not new. For example, in the 1940’s and 50’s the existential psychologist Rollo May and his contemporary Eric Fromm explored these ideas in their respective books, “The Meaning of Anxiety,” and “Escape from Freedom.”)
The innumerable possibilities for each of our lives, available moment by moment, can be completely overwhelming when honestly faced. Furthermore, there is the fact that we don’t know the outcome of each of those choices, and thus must “walk blind.” The responsibility of making decisions, for which we are so ill equipped, leads us to attempt to escape from the very thing we profess to desire and adore—freedom.
And here’s the frustrating thing: how we deceive ourselves about the whole situation. Mostly we convince ourselves we have far less freedom than we do, or otherwise abdicate our freedom to powerful others.
Time-Tested and Proven Methods to Escape from Freedom:
- Join an authoritarian group/cult
- Partner up with someone who will make all your decisions for you. Ideally an attractive someone who will also make you look good by making excellent decisions. Preferably not someone of the abusive authoritarian variety.
- Convince yourself you are powerless to improve your situation.
- If you are spiritually/religiously inclined, avoid taking action until your plan is officially sanctioned by God/the Universe/whatever you call It. Preferably by way of a ray of golden light bathing you as you ask whether you should do the thing you are thinking of doing. Ideally accompanied by angel’s singing. This Higher Power assuming a human voice and verbally telling you what to do is also helpful. Again, if none of the above occurs, you have not yet received guidance and would do best to remain at home in bed so as to avoid effing up the delicate balance of the universe. (This is a favorite of mine).
- Consider all the pros and cons of every possible option you can think of until you become completely overwhelmed and find it necessary to lie down with a cold compress on your forehead. Any time you get the urge to make a change/do the thing, begin obsessively reviewing the pro-con list again and again until you remember YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO and DOING THE THING IS BASICALLY IMPOSSIBLE ANYWAYS CONSIDERING ALL THE FACTORS INVOLVED. (Another favorite method of mine).
- Wait until every person on the planet you have ever interacted with and ever will interact with approves of your plan.
- Wait until your horoscope/cards unambiguously sanction your plan.
- Wait until you are guaranteed of success in your plan before taking the first step. Yes, this will require you to know the future. Figure it out.
This is something I have had to face recently in many ways. For example, the other day I prayed for guidance about whether I should take an apartment we had been accepted for. I was ideally looking for a straightforward yes or no. What I got was, “It’s your decision.”
Initially, I was frustrated and considered this to be a non-answer; after some time, I realized this was exactly the answer I need. I need to practice taking responsibility to make decisions.
Recently, I’ve been desiring more freedom in my life, and taking steps to achieve that. But if freedom is something I really want, I’m going to have to learn to face the existential anxiety associated with it and make some choices for myself (while continuing to follow guidance and hopefully “going with the flow” as well). That should be no problem, right?
Stay tuned for a follow-up post in which I discuss ways we can empower ourselves to more effectively make decisions and take responsibility to create the life we desire, despite the existential dread involved.
What are your favorite methods to escape from freedom?
*Also, Happy Eclipse today friends!