Human beings are described by some as having free will with a freedom of choice that creates and controls their lives. Philosophers have been busy for eons pondering and debating this aspect of human nature. Some of the world’s most illustrious minds have contributed to this discussion but it remains open for debate. For further clarification, we must understand how instinctive preferences and choice are not the same motivators in our decision making.
Conventional wisdom tells us that making good choices is a major aspect of our personal growth and personal satisfaction. Our lives are determined by the choices we make, both good and bad. What our life is at this present moment is the result of the sum of all of the choices we ever have made. What our life will become depends on the choices we will be making from this moment on.
We can look back on our life and with hindsight clearly see our mistakes with 20/20 vision. We may fantasise and wish that we could go back in time and remake some of the choices that we shouldn’t have made. But alas, we can’t and are stuck with the ramifications those choices created along with the learning lessons associated with them.
Freud gave us his opinion within his psychoanalytic theory of personality. He believed that the driving principle that creates our choice is that humans simply seek pleasure and avoid pain. In other words, this pleasure principle is behind our efforts to fulfil our most basic and primitive urges. When these needs are not met, the result is a state of anxiety or tension. When they are met, we feel satisfied.
The real question from his theory is how do we determine what feels pleasurable and what doesn’t? Is there any choice in how we naturally feel? For a simple example, do we have any choice if we naturally like chocolate over vanilla ice cream? Was that ever really a choice or just an internal preset preference that was expressed the first time we tasted them?
We can use this argument with any preference we have. Why do we prefer something over another? In most situations, our preferences are innocuous but when they oppose someone else’s preferences, then conflict can be the result. We can insert everything into this discussion, including our political preferences and our propensity to be religious or not. Any division of the populous is a result of our competing and opposing preferences. In my book Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values, I show how the world is created by this conflict of preferences and how it impacts all our lives.
There is ever increasing scientific evidence that our emotions are the basis of our temperament and are genetically influenced. Values and preferences have been shown to be a part of this genetic make-up of our temperaments. This makes the argument that we may not have as much choice in our lives as we believe.
[Research] suggests that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion: much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realise.
– Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
I would add to the above quote that we are not only susceptible, but controlled by the internal instinctual values set by our genetic make-up that create our reactions to outside stimulation. When it comes to most preferences, there is little choice. On the other hand, with deliberate thought, analysis, and a wilful intention, we do have the capability to override some of our impulses and make choices that are contrary to our instincts. Overcoming fears, selfishness, anger, and other emotions will be the true choices that we make.
I believe that if a decision is comfortable to make then it isn’t really a choice, just an expressed preference. There are endless possibilities in this world that expose our preferences. Real choice lies outside the boundaries of preferences and have an entirely different effect on our being.
Preferences can keep us boxed into a certain state of consciousness and limited outcomes. When we can push through our comfort zone though choice, our possibilities become endless.
A person’s looking for a simple truth to live by, there it is. Choice. To refuse to passively accept what we’ve been handed by nature or society, but to choose for ourselves. Choice. That’s the difference between emptiness and substance, between a life actually lived and a wimpy shadow cast on an office wall.
– Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
Choice is meaningful, impactful, and life-changing. Preferences are instinctual and help to create the conflict in this world when people disagree on whose preferences are better than another’s. Choice is on an entirely different and higher plane than preference.
If we are to rise above the noise and confusion of the world, it will only be from choice. If we are to create positive and healthy relationships, it will only be from choice. If we are to overcome our weaknesses and achieve our dreams, it will only be from choice.
Preferences can get us into ego predicaments of all sorts. Choice will lead us to our higher self and be the solutions to the world’s problems.
Scott Trettenero’s recent book, Master the Mystery of Human Nature: Resolving the Conflict of Opposing Values helps readers learn about themselves, others and how the world works because of our differences. Scott has maintained a solo dental practice in Southwest Florida since 1981. His research on quality service in dentistry and his interest in human temperaments formed the basis for his first book, Unlocking the T-Code. He is married and has two children.