About that free will…



“You can be everything in life but the important thing is to be a good person.” ~ Shams Tabrizi

You gotta love Al Pacino‘s lines at the end of “The Devil’s Advocate“. My favorite? “Free will, it is a bitch.”

Because he’s right. As unpleasant as it may be to admit sometimes, we always have a choice, even if it’s only to maintain our integrity, stay true to what is real, good and beautiful in us and in our lives. None of these things are for sale to any excuse, no matter how tempting the bid, unless we agree to the transaction. And we alone get to choose the flavor of this betrayal regardless of how the stage is set up by elements beyond our control. It’s all about the ego in the end, about catering solely to our immediate comforts (or ambitions), about “loving” ourselves at the expense of everything/everyone else (even our own wellness), which is not love at all, but something else very ugly and very destructive.

I used to occasionally argue that in some circumstances, what is available to us is so difficult that it’s not really a choice. So yes, Viktor Frankl‘s famous book about the search for meaning and a whole stack of ‘abnormal’ psychology manuals seemed to clash on my bookshelves. Sometimes we can’t change circumstances, for a while at least, and sometimes we are unable to change ourselves. Where then exactly is there room for choice?

Tuns out there is always room. Problem is, honoring the gift of free will does not always appear all that impressive, convenient or fair. We tend to think of choices in super-size terms, leading to drastic changes, dramatic and instant results. And sometimes we can indeed boldly go and boldly change circumstance or ourselves. But when it isn’t possible, we can still choose at the level where it counts the most. It may be challenging, inconvenient and risky. It may not bring a perfect or immediate solution, but it will make all the difference on the spot and in the long run.

Not selling out to what insults the soul (and we know what those things are for each of us) is always a choice we can make and hang on to even if it is by the thinnest of threads for a while.

Again and again, we come across the same truth in life. It’s not about what we get or how much we have, how comfortable we are or how well we’ve managed to maintain appearances by which others can measure our worth. It’s about who we become.

I am not aware of anyone who did not ‘sell-out’ on occasion. We’ve all found ourselves at some time or other with too much to carry, for too long, and the first shortcut we came across seemed like the relief we so desperately needed (and a reasonable solution to boot).

But it’s never really that way, is it? Whether in our personal lives or in business, we know when we choose easy over right, an imitation over the genuine, anger over kindness, fear over dignity. As I wrote in my previous post, we know when we lose by winning. And no matter how well it’s buried, that kind of truth always emerges.

One of the greatest deceptions we come across is that success depends a lot on one’s willingness to achieve goals by whatever means necessary…as in take the easiest route, stock up on personal benefits while focusing mostly on advantages, pleasure and gain. In other words, if you can cheat well, use up whatever resources are available without hesitation or remorse, avoid inconvenience, cover your tracks with carefully selected excuses and never get caught, you’ve made it. And if you manage to convince yourself you had no choice, that you simply did what you had to and are pursuing logical, practical and healthy goals that guarantee some measure of satisfaction and prosperity, you’ve made it even better.

In reality, that’s not at all the formula for happiness or success in personal life or in business. Going on a ride (even 1st class) that insults the soul and compromises our integrity leads to failure. It is a failure for which there is no excuse, and from which there is no escape if we keep going down that path. Somewhere, somehow, it all catches up, exposing us, even if only to ourselves, as total frauds. And we can’t blame circumstances, our parents, the economy, or the gods for that realization.

Because we do have free will: that wonderful bit which makes us all ultimately responsible for how we handle both the sunny days and the nasty storms in life.

It is a gift of grace, and a beautiful ‘burden’. But, as Al Pacino aka John Milton aka Satan so brilliantly puts it, that free will is also a bitch.

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