Strong Suits Have Drawbacks. That's Okay.
During our earlier lunch conversation, his eyes got a little red and he excused himself for a few minutes. Because he might have been upset, I checked in with Myles (not his real name) the next morning. He said that his emotions were a bit wired that day from having coffee in the morning, but that he wasn’t upset. He said he was actually pretty happy - he saw something about his life he’d never seen before.
An advisee of mine and I started a weekly philosophy club at school to give students an opportunity to explore the nature of their experience of life. (She’s now graduating, but the club lives on.) In this week’s club meeting, one of the students suggested that we talk about free will.
At one point, Myles shared that he doesn’t believe we have free will, but he wished we did. He said that he feels a lot of compassion and empathy for others, but he finds himself doing things that he doesn’t really want to do in order to satisfy the compulsion of his empathy.
We asked him how having free will would change that experience for him: “If I had free will, I would still feel empathy and compassion, but I wouldn’t have to always act on them. I’d have a choice in how I act.”
So I looked him in the eyes and asked: “But Myles, don’t you already have that choice?”
He thought for a long moment. Then, “Yes,” he said, “but it’s really hard sometimes. But yes, I do have a choice.” Soon after that, his eyes got a little red.
Our strong suits and the emotions that come with them are such a positive force in our lives. They often feel good, they often produce good results, and we identify and define ourselves by our strong suits.
But our strong suits and their emotions can also be limitations. Myles, a 17-year-old, saw this and then had an even deeper insight into his fundamental nature: we have a choice in how we respond to the compulsions of our strong suits and emotions. I find this insight profound.
It usually doesn’t feel like we’ve got a choice, but we do. By widening the gap between stimulus and response, we find freedom to choose. By giving ourselves an action-less moment to just feel through our initial emotional and thought responses, we reawaken our capacity to respond without constraint, our response-ability. By listening for a moment to a quieter part of ourselves, we can actually hear our true self whispering through.
Yes, it can be really tough at times to act against the pressure of our strong suits and emotions, but it honors ourselves and others much more when we act authentically and with integrity.
It turns out that Myles was moved in our conversation by an insight into his fundamental nature. All it took was his willingness to reconsider what he had thought and felt was true, to honestly and calmly look at his own experience.
For me, moments of insight are usually blissful experiences. Sometimes, though, insight is followed by an “Oh crap” moment as I realize that this new power brings with it new responsibility.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️
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