by Ruth Minshull
There are many levels of freedom. The obvious ones include our numerous rights as citizens of a free country. As individuals and families we can choose where we will live and work and nest. Given a reasonable amount of intelligence, we can select the economic level and the lifestyle we wish.
On a completely personal plane, we have more choices than we usually acknowledge. For one thing, we can have any opinion on any subject. Some people insist on believing that you are either in or you’re out. You like it or you don’t. To them, it’s an either-or world. Actually we have more choices than that. We can choose (in most cases) either, both or neither. That’s four choices. Furthermore, we can change our minds.
For instance, I’m not an animal rights activist; sometimes these people seem to be pretty crazy to me. On the other hand, I’m often in complete agreement with their efforts. I certainly never favor needless cruelty or killing of any creatures. I’m an environmentalist most of the time, but not necessarily on every single issue.
I’m neither a conservative nor a liberal. Sometimes I’m a bit of both; sometimes I’m neither.
To me, one of the greatest freedoms is the right to have no opinion at all on a given subject–to keep options open, or simply remain indifferent. For instance, if there would be a movement to save the endangered triple-fanged tarantula, I might be indifferent to that effort. (Well, actually, I might pay money to the hit man who could ensure their extinction.)
A man once asked me, “Do you like modern art?” He was perplexed when I replied, “I don’t have an opinion on the subject.” We constrict our lives so much when we try to form an opinion about an entire block of life at once. I could have said, “Which art?” There’s no way to determine how much pleasure we forfeit when we pre-decide that we like all modern art, or that we dislike all of it. For some people there is, apparently, a certain security in pre-fabricated opinions. It’s lazy, but it’s safe.
I once knew a man who had sat down at some time or other and figured out how he felt about everything–philosophical questions as well as all matters of taste. After that, he never again looked at things anew. When any subject came up, he simply pulled out a ready-made opinion. You couldn’t actually converse with him. You listened to a monologue. In a very short time, I found him pretty boring.
Another very profound choice is how we feel about something–how we will react to life around us at any given time. Many times we try to disown this choice, but nevertheless, it is ours.
Love is a good example. People like to pretend that love is sort of a disembodied force that comes out of nowhere and grabs us in the gut and then either fills us with ecstasy or rips us to pieces, depending the course of events. We like to say, “I couldn’t help it. I fell in love.” We get on a roller coaster and then sit back and become effect of the sensations, good and bad. We don’t want to admit that we’re in charge of the roller coaster. I guess we think it’s more fun to disown our own creation.
Strangely, however, when we withdraw our loyalty or affection or love we are more willing to take responsibility. We know we can turn it off. We will decided I didn’t want to belong to that group any more.” “I didn’t want him for a friend any more.” Even, “I realized that I didn’t love him any more.” When it no longer seems like a good idea, we simply change our minds.
I know a young man who falls in and out of love about as often as some people change their socks. He always endows the first meeting with mystic reverence; he’s quite hopelessly romantic. He’s now going to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. But the next time I see him, he is saying, “Oh, I’m not seeing her any more. I decided that….”
In other words, we fall into love with our emotions, but we fall out of love with our heads.
There are other choices we make. We can choose how we will respond in any given situation–how we will feel, what we will think. We do have emotions come in on us unbidden, of course, but if we can’t turn them off, we can still decide whether or not to take them seriously.
We all know certain people who specialize in making underhanded jabs at others. When someone says or does something in an attempt to hurt us, we can choose our response. We can be mad; we can be crushed; best of all, we can let it roll right off. We can detach ourselves from the situation knowing the other person is the one with the problem.
Lastly, our whole attitude about life is actually our own choice. We can decide that the news is depressing, the weather is horrible, people are terrible–so naturally we feel miserable. Some people have an insatiable thirst for drama. They insist that everything happens to them. Even though they have about the same grab bag of experiences that the rest of us have, they play out each occurrence with full histrionics. Give them an orchestral background and they’d have a “reality” soap opera. They love to confound you with the complexity of their problems, the unsolvability of their unique situations. They choose to be neurotic because they think it makes them interesting.
In the end the rest of us usually choose to leave such people behind.
Life can be anything from horrible to wonderful. Naturally, we can’t always control what comes our way. But we can control how we respond to it.
© Ruth Minshull 2015