“If you want freedom, set your standards higher.”
- Morning Meditation, May 8th, 2020
Well, that made me stop and think – which is ostensibly what you’re actually trying not to do in a meditation. But hey, tell that to my internal dialogue.
(Side note: I never thought before whether it’s an internal dialogue or an internal monologue. If it really is a dialogue, then who are the two me’s talking? And who is observing them? Which one is the real me? Is there a real me? But I digress…)
So anyway, that thought just came out of the blue. I’m not sure who sent it, or what prompted it. But of course, it made me dive into the rabbit hole to try to understand what that message might mean to me. But first…
At the moment there’s a lot going on in the country (and world) relative to the friendly local world-wide pandemic. Maybe this can serve as an example, or something for me to use to dive into better understanding what that quote might mean. As for said pandemic, nobody seems to really know what to do, and that nobody seems to include scientists and doctors, but certainly includes politicians, back seat drivers, and Monday morning quarterbacks – even if all of them seem to have strongly held views. And the need to share those views also seems to be almost directly inversely proportional to any real insights or expertise, but there I go digressing again.
In any case, maybe there were similar arguments and some dissension back in the days of the Spanish Flu, around 1917 and 1918. But if there were, there seems to have been no historical consensus established. So here we all are now, floundering, making decisions based more on politics and fear than on wisdom, experience, and intelligent planning.
That lack of guidance, for the most part anyway, dripping down haphazardly, randomly, and basically unscientifically from above, has caused a lot of disagreement about what the right approach might be. That’s understandable; people need to know what’s going on, and need to be shared clarity and insights.
But the lack of clear, reliable information and guidance has opened up another can of constitutional worms. And that is the current burning question of where to draw the line in the sand, particularly when it comes to making personal choices relative to our individual health, safety, financial stability, and overall well-being.
Groups of people are gathering (against social distancing mandates) in order to protest broad lockdown orders. They are protesting to open up beaches, and to open up businesses. They are protesting to be able to go back to work, and protesting to ostensibly have (make?) others go back to work. Some are protesting that they don’t feel safe going back to work, but are being forced to do that because of unemployment policies or other threats to lose their employment altogether.
Protests abound. And many protestors, wielding standard “rugged American individualist” rhetoric, harp over and over on how the governments’ sweeping mandates abridge their own individual freedoms.
Now, given that if you get a large enough group of people together (I think an entire country qualifies), and you mandate literally anything whatsoever, it’s safe to say you’re gonna upset a number of them. Or in the words of some of the protestors, you’re going to limit their constitutionally protected freedoms.
So what do you do, when you will always have people on one end of any given spectrum or another? What do you do when you’re going to abridge the freedom of some, in order to help others? Well, I don’t know. Maybe you go back to a Star Trek movie, where the good of the many outweigh the good of the one. Or maybe you look at its sequel, where the good of the one outweighs the good of the many. Maybe that’s another discussion for another day – how do the folks in positions of power make the best, or the right, choices – when many others are likely to be negatively impacted either way.
But for now, I’m mostly interested in reflecting not on the Impactor, but on the Impacted.
Just to establish some kind of baseline, I’ll make a sweeping generalization: we mostly make choices based on our own selfish self-interests – most of our choices are desire based, or fear based, but either way “perceived-benefit” based. That’s basically what people do, right? I mean, how else would one choose? I guess that’s reasonable enough, or if not reasonable, certainly typical.
But then once you choose, based on what’s best for you, or what you think is the best choice for you, or for most of the other people out there (who presumably are like you too), then what? Well then at that point you’re basically rendered victor or victim – but all at the hands of the “Deciders”, whoever they might be. You win some; you lose some. Like my dad used to say, “Some days you’re the windshield; some days you’re the bug.” And being the bug usually tends to piss people off.
But either way, your fate is still in the hands of the Deciders – important point. And your feelings and emotions and reactions are in yours, if also rather tenuously – another important point.
Everything then hinges on the decisions of the Deciders, and on your own emotional attachment to your desire-based decision-making strategy. Windshield or bug. Over and over.
In the parlance of the moment, do I want to socially distance and support that for the safety of myself and others, or do I want to acknowledge legitimate financial and other economic factors that also cause people to be put at risk? And choosing either one eventually makes me potential victim or victor, but entirely at the hands of those others who determine my fate.
But is that ultimately the freedom to choose, or just the luck of the draw?
Our constitution guarantees our liberties and freedoms, ostensibly, and Jefferson said we had the right to the pursuit of happiness. But do we really know how to pursue happiness or live in freedom, when we might just be tomorrow’s bug?
Is there a better way to approach all of this than we typically employ? And what was that blurb at the top of this little chat musing about higher standards, vis-à-vis freedom?
You know, I’m certainly not sure. But on first blush, it makes me think to start with the mundane, and work deeper from there. My initial reaction to having that thought pop into my mind during my meditation was in terms of having my choice, and thus my desires, fulfilled. For example, “I don’t want to catch the virus” vs. “I need to earn a living”. You may or may not get what you want, and that will likely also change over time – and none of this instills any confidence that you’ll end up having either much happiness or freedom. Having so many variables, over time, invariably leaves us (always?) in a pretty tenuous state.
Desire or fear-based strategy for choosing. Ultimately, lack of control. Inherent opportunity to be victimized… Freedom? Um, hardly.
OK, so we want more of that, if possible. Let’s start there.
Now, what was that up in the original quote above about how to get that? Oh yeah, “set your standards higher”.
Maybe we can use our decision-making model to reflect deeply held acceptable standards. If we start with a desire and fear-based algorithm (in our never-ending pursuit of happiness and freedom) which sometimes works out, but invariably also puts us in the role of potential victim, can we push that approach aside and set another in its place? What might be a higher standard, relative to our default desire-based, self-centered model?
What about an others-based, compassion-oriented, unattached model, for instance? What if we could adopt such a model? You know, basically the opposite of how the world works… how might that work?
Well, first of all, it mostly removes us from such strong attachment to getting our desired results, since the results are not based on our individual desire to begin with. We’re now trying to choose based on, say, the greatest good, or the widest benefit. We are trying to be sensitive to the needs of others, as best we can. We are trying to put others first. Round One.
But then what if we don’t get what we want? What if the lockdown continues against our wishes, or if the businesses open up too soon? Then we have to deal with our attachment to our desire to get the results we want from even this broader choice. And if we don’t get that… back to frustration and unfulfilled desire? But, but… what if people were misled? What if bullies took control and created a situation which didn’t ultimately serve in everyone’s best interest?
Then what? Are we still victimized? Are we still trapped by our desires, even though they are more altruistic desires? Is there an element of selfishness even within altruistic motives? Are we still stuck in the victor/victim paradigm even if we start out more selflessly? Is this standard also fundamentally flawed? Are we stuck with this then?
Or… is there a higher standard? Even higher than this other-based model?
First, to recap: We need to transcend our typically selfishly oriented approaches with their inherent tendencies towards victimizing, and ironically also victimization. But then unexpectedly, we also seem to need to transcend an even more altruistically oriented model – particularly if we are strongly attached to results, and strongly judgmental of outcomes and how people align themselves in the process of deciding what is best for most.
But where from here? What’s better than altruism? That always seemed like a hard to achieve holy grail as it was. And now we need to find something better than that? How would we go about finding that even?
How about by comparison? So to start, we know how these two models are different: there’s the selfish self-centered model where we choose what we think is best for us; and then there’s the altruistic model where we choose what we think is best for others.
But look how they’re the same: “…where we choose what we think is best…”
Can we in turn make that somehow different? Could we replace “we choose” and “what we think is *best*”? It seems that “we choose” is inherently problematic and then “what we think is best” is of course always subjective, particularly in this day of easy access to any data which ultimately supports what you want or refutes what you don’t want.
What kind of model could replace those two? It seems it would have to be one that is neither self-centric, nor self-centric altruistic, but one that removes self as best as possible from the center of the universe.
To shift from self-centric to self-centric altruistic, we started by replacing “what’s best for me” with “what’s best for you”. But if that now isn’t enough, what do we replace that with?
What if we replace “you” with some ideal?
For example, instead of asking what (I think) is best for me or what (I think) is best for you, we ask: “What has the most compassion?” And can we do that objectively? Can that be defined outside of what we think it is?
What if we align ourselves with higher intent and motivation? What if we strive to overcome our own fears and clinging – either in attachment or in avoidance? What if we commit to the courage and clarity of our convictions? And is that a resolvable paradox? That is, we must be unattached to results, while being committed to that which represents the highest ideals.
Is this the possibility of freedom?
We don’t choose for ourselves, and we don’t choose for others. We try to, as best we can, objectively choose what is the highest ideal. We align with that. We commit to that, putting forth all the effort, selflessness, unattachment, integrity, clarity, and wisdom we can muster. For as long as it takes.
But because we have removed ourselves from the center of the equation, we remain steadfastly unattached to the results. The lessons are in the objectivity, the commitment, the effort, and the unattachment – all in the process. Not in the results, which remain always largely out of our control.
It is controlled folly. And it is the price we pay for freedom.
“Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down”
C, S, N & Y
There is certainly a cost to freedom. But before Mother Earth swallows us, will we be willing to pay it?