So Ruth Chang had this idea. When faced with hard decisions, what is the basis for making our choices?
As it turns out, she may have inadvertently discovered the difference between operating in a fixed system determined by destiny and operating in an open system like that associated with free will. The distinction is easy to perceive, but the explanation of how these operations take place is much harder to explain.
For instance, can both destiny and free will coexist? Can both systems coincide in our reality? They can if we stop to consider the consciousness of the individual involved. At its heart, “Reality” is not an external, objective truth but instead an internal, subjective one in which we are all participants – as protagonists – in our own stories. With this in place, the systems of destiny and free will simply become a choice. A choice that is based upon the conditioning of the individual at the dashboard pulling the levers.
Ruth Chang’s TED talk really helps illustrate this idea. It wasn’t the intended purpose of her talk, but it does become apparent that it can serve as an example.
Basically, any hard choice is an opportunity for us to live out this potential for shaping the universe. We will have our lives dictated to us or will we become the author of our own lives, making the story as we go along?
Coupled with Carol Dweck’s Mindest, The New Pyschology of Success this begins to make even more sense. Dweck proposes that there are two basic categories of people – fixed mindsets and growth mindsets. Fixed mindsets are people who have a tendency to believe in the values of things like IQ ratings and that failure is not an action but an identity. There are only opportunities to prove oneself. The growth mindset, however, offers the opposite. Things are not static, but dynamic. Nothing is predetermined because learning is a way to expand potential, rather than define it. Limits are meant to be approached and surpassed, not contain and shackle.
I have often stated that there are two types of people in the world and we see this repeatedly throughout history. There are those who value security and those that value freedom. Both have strong, emotional ties to their creeds and both seem to find themselves diametrically opposed to the other. Security types will want to limit freedoms so that everyone can feel protected whereas freedom types belief risk is the main ingredient in life – one should have the ability to fail in order to truly value success.
Destiny, security, fixed mindsets. Freewill, freedom, growth mindsets. These are the yin and yang of our reality and it comes from an internal well, springing forth from our perception of ourselves, our lives, and our relation to the world around us. These are not external, fixed truths that exist absolutely ruling over all of our lives. We have the ability to simply move from one side to the other. We have choice.
This is what Ruth Chang has hit upon. That the difference between the choices offered in a hard choice is that we have the opportunity to demonstrate freewill. We are not enslaved to reason, as she puts it. The easy choices are so because there is a reason, hard and fast, for which we have made that choice. In that scenario, we are enslaved to reason – whatever that may be, it may be an externally imposed one that has its value in our early lives. It could be tied to nutrition (eat the salad instead of the pizza), or it could be tethered to a moral teaching (that is a sin and therefore I cannot do that). These are reasons that may have been digested by ourselves but not created by us. In these instances of dictated reason, we are not the authors rationalizing our own motives. Yet, with hard choices, when faced with two items that are not quantitative but qualitative, and requiring a more subjective analysis, then we are making up our own reasons for choosing choice A or B. In other words, we are demonstrating our ability to exercise freewill and this is the heart of living life. Ultimately, whether or not we choose to live our lives as we wish or have them dictated to us, both options extend from a choice. Perhaps we prefer to live our lives favoring what we perceive to be more stable and therefore value security more; perhaps we feel that the unknown is what gives value to our lives and each day is an opportunity to go and explore.
It becomes clear that when we decide to make our own reasons for doing something, we are executing freewill. When we decide to live our lives according to reasons that have been given to us, then we are living our lives according to a fixed fate or in accordance with destiny. The means by which we rationalize this outcome becomes a reflection of our lives and not only how we perceive our world, but how we perceive our place in it.