Stop The Blame Game…The Power Of Choice
Obviously the nature of this type of article assumes you have the power of choice.
Actually, it not only presupposes it’s existence, it argues it’s the most powerful force within your arsenal if not in the entire world.
Nonetheless, this view is frequently at odds with most of our understanding.
As a society, we often discredit, undermine, disarm, and rob it of its power.
The individual with a fixed mindset and a host of limiting beliefs is likely saturated with deterministic types of thinking.
“I’m the product of my upbringing, my genetics, the stress that surrounds me,” ad nauseam.
We take our own personal power and strip it down to nothingness.
It’s as equally heartbreaking as it is frustrating.
I am not the product of my genetic constitution, social conditioning or my stressful conditions.
Print that out and hang it up somewhere. Whatever you need to do to remind yourself.
Three Types Of Determinism (The 3 C’s)
I guess I should clarify precisely what determinism is.
Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, decision and action is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. This does not necessarily mean that humans have no influence on the future and its events (a position more correctly known as Fatalism), but that the level to which humans have influence over their future is itself dependent on present and past. Taken to its logical extreme, Determinism would argue that the initial Big Bang triggered every single action, and possibly mental thought, through a system of cause and effect.
Determinism rules out free will.
If you’re curious what a bullet right into the heart of emotional well being looks like, look no further.
Once free will is on the bench the game starts to look rather vicious and horrifying.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s break down the 3 main forms of determinism that commonly plague people with poor mental health. Then I’ll present to you a case that this is all a bunch of malarkey!
I call them “The Three C’s”
- Genetic Determinism (Constitution)
- Psychology Determinism (Conditioning)
- Environmental/Stress Determinism (Conditions)
Genetic Determinism (Constitution)
“I’m an alcoholic because my father and grandfather were alcoholic.”
“Mental illness runs in my family.”
“I’m angry because I’m Italian.”
“I’m argumentative because I’m Greek and debate is in my DNA.”
Genetic Determinism is fairly straightforward, you are who you are because of our DNA – the sum total of your grandparents and parents; your genetic make-up or constitution.
This is deceptive, because certainly DNA plays a vital role in your function and character traits.
Nonetheless, transitioning from our behavior being “influenced by” to “determined by” is a shot in the dark.
It’s very similar to astrology in a sense, as if our behavior is determined by the celestial bodies positioning during our birth.
Can this have an influence? Perhaps.
However, as one meme brilliantly surmised, “it’s not that you’re Scorpio Karen, you’re just a bitch.
Do you really want to live and function under the assumption that you are a predetermined operating system developed by your ancestors?
Is it possible that you have a little more say over how you respond to the world around you? Are you not capable of more than that?
Psychology Determinism (Conditioning)
Maybe you concede that there is more than that, but also reply, “it has just been beaten into me that this is just the way things are!”
“I was never good enough for my father.”
“My parents always made me feel guilty for existing.”
“My mom always treated me differently than my brothers.”
“My siblings always acted like I was an inconvenience.”
We go from shifting our focus to our DNA broadly to our immediate family.
Ok ok, you got me, it’s not the double helix, it’s Harry, my colossally narcissistic father.
Or, better yet, my culture is set up. I was conditioned to think the most absurd nonsense that in no way shape or form serves me. I had no choice but to think in the manner I was trained to think.
So, genetic determinism lays blame on one’s specific constitution or make-up. Psychological determinism finds the fault in the conditioning.
But what about environmental/stress determinism? (Conditions)
Environmental Determinism (Conditions)
Alot of us treat stress as if it’s particles floating around us. Stay away from the stress particles, if possible, and all is groovy.
“My job is burning me out.”
“My wife is the source of my stress.”
“The economy served my misfortune on a cold dish.”
We’ve developed this assumption that our thoughts, feelings, moods, and behaviors are a byproduct of the conditions around us.
So, responsibility is thrown right out the window.
In order to be happy we somehow have to manipulate and control our conditions.
If you are the result of our constitution, conditioning, and conditions (the 3 C’s), then personal choice is as futile as trying to breathe through your ears!
Your life is the sum total of the 3 C’s, so you must place blame and ravenously consume what little resources are available.
This is the epitome of a broken worldview.
How To Take Back Control
One of the most important questions we can ask is “what is human nature?”
This really needs to be grasped if we are to become a master of our own destiny.
Of course discovering the exact nature of a human being, a topic wrestled with by the greatest minds of humanity, is outside the reach of this post.
I only intend to construct here a model that will yield extraordinary benefits in your life.
Research has shown that we make anywhere between 2,500 to 5,000 decisions a day and these we are only somewhat conscious of. The remainder, which we are entirely unconscious of, range between 30,000 to 50,000. I have no idea how this is possibly quantifiable, but whatever it serves my point.
More research argues that 40% or more of our behavior is entirely habitual.
I know we love to run around hooting and hollering about free-will, especially since our justice system and entire system of morality rests upon this phantom concept.
Nevertheless, all that we can say for sure is that it appears as if our parameters of choice are very thin, like a handful of decisions. It logically follows that if we are limited to a specific amount of decisions then we really need to capitalize on these bad boys.
It makes sense, no?
If we are governed by mostly automatic processes, we must calibrate these processes accordingly.
In this manner we can somewhat dictate our unconscious desires.
And, you guessed it, the handful of decisions are the calibrators.
Automatic behaviors are impulsive and unconscious.
Well, it’s largely due to specific triggers having an automatic game plan up their neurological sleeve.
An external stimulus provokes or “triggers” a craving to do something, a specific routine or game plan that anticipates and creates some type of reward.
This is the mechanics of a habit: trigger > craving > routine > reward.
And it all happens at an unconscious level!
The crux of the issue then appears behavioral rather than mental, are we the sum total of thoughts or actions (unconscious habits)?
I’d argue it’s largely habits, however, we can make dynamic changes in this arena by using the power of thought and these two neocortical beasts: attention and intention.
To put it another, our choice-making apparatus is programmed in such a way that to specific stimuli we already have a basic pre-programmed behavioral response. Fortunately, we can alter the programming.
As Soren Kierkegaard rightly observed, “Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.”
It’s somewhat horrifying to discover that automatic decisions will more or less determine our response to life.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it – it becomes astonishingly evident that we need to tweak the program.
I think the human will is by far the most potent force in behavior, rendering it purposeful, existing with an end in mind.
This is what makes us human – the ability to modify our programming and forge our unconscious desires.
It’s choice, it’s the ability to be response-able!
Responsibility renders the 3 C’s as influential factors not determining ones.
Let us use Rousseau’s concept of perfectibility to really paint a picture of what I am attempting to express.
“Perfectibility – Man’s inexhaustible ability to improve himself, to shape and to be shaped by his environment. It is the chief characteristic that distinguishes him from other animals. The development of reason and language are both functions of perfectibility. For man to “perfect himself” is not necessarily for him to become perfect, but rather for his physical and mental capacities to be remolded, time and time again. Perfectibility draws man out of his original condition, and is responsible for his extraordinary adaptability, but it is also the source of all his miseries. It creates enlightenment and man’s virtues, but also all of his vices.”
To make a long story short, we can improve ourselves.
This is not necessarily true with other species.
Consider my dog, Emma. She is a pug, semi-overweight, significantly lazy, and a connoisseur of fine foods.
Emma is always the same – day in and day out.
It is highly improbable that I will come home one day to her burning sage, sitting full lotus, attempting to rearrange her attitudes, ideas, motivations, and achieve a higher level of consciousness.
She will continue to be Emma.
Probably grow a bit lazier and grumpier, but self-actualization is doubtfully on the horizon.
Yet, we can rearrange our attitudes, emotions, and motivations. We can chase after higher levels of consciousness. We can integrate ourselves and move towards self-actualization. We can challenge the current meaning in our lives and re-create our purpose.
Stephen Covey says it best:
We are not our feelings. We are not our moods. We are not even our thoughts. The very fact that we can think about these things separates us from them and from the animal world.
Self-awareness enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we “see” ourselves—our self-paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness. It affects not only our attitudes and behaviors, but also how we see other people. It becomes our map of the basic nature of mankind. In fact, until we take how we see ourselves (and how we see others) into account, we will be unable to understand how others see and feel about themselves and their world.
Unaware, we will project our intentions on their behavior and call ourselves objective. This significantly limits our personal potential and our ability to relate to others as well. But because of the unique human capacity of self-awareness, we can examine our paradigms to determine whether they are reality- or principle-based or if they are a function of conditioning and conditions.”
It’s worth mentioning again, the entry point to re-calibrate ourselves is at the level of automatic or preprogrammed decisions and is therefore incredibly minute (a handful of decisions, right?).
So, as we move towards that total transformation, the seemingly arbitrary decisions are the stepping stones.
Pay attention and be intentional because it’s the aggregation of marginal gains that provides the biggest payout.
The blame game ultimately ties you to the very displeasure you wish to avoid – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I would like to conclude this article with a bit of Greek Mythology, I pray it grants you the same insight as it did me regarding this topic of personal responsibility, the power of choice, and ineffective nature of the blame game.
The Myth of Orestes and the Furies
Orestes was the grandson of Atreus, a man who had viciously attempted to prove himself more powerful than the gods. Because of his crime against them, the gods punished Atreus by placing a curse upon all his descendants.
As part of the enactment of this curse upon the House of Atreus, Orestes’ mother, Clytemnestra murdered his father and her husband, Agamemnon. This crime in turn brought down the curse upon Orestes’ head, because by the Greek code of honor a son was obliged, above all else, to slay his father’s murderer. Yet the greatest sin a Greek could commit was the sin of matricide (killing one’s mother).
Orestes agonized over his dilemma. Finally he did what he seemingly had to do and killed his mother. For this sin the gods then punished Orestes by visiting upon him the Furies, three ghastly harpies who could be seen and heard only by him and who tormented him night and day with their cackling criticism and frightening appearance.
Pursued wherever he went by the Furies, Orestes wandered about the land seeking to atone for his crime. After many years of lonely reflection and self-abrogation Orestes requested the gods relieve him of the curse on the House of Atreus and its visitations upon him through the Furies, stating his belief that he had succeeded in atoning for the murder of his mother.
A trial was held by the gods. Speaking in Orestes defense, Apollo argued that he had engineered the whole situation that had placed Orestes in the position in which he had no choice but to kill his mother, and therefore Orestes really could not be held responsible.
At this point Orestes jumped up and contradicted his own defender, stating “It was I, not Apollo, that murdered my mother!” The gods were amazed. Never before had a member of the House of Atreus assumed such total responsibility for himself and not blamed the gods.
Eventually the gods decided the trial in Orestes’ favor, and not only relieved him of the curse upon the House of Atreus but also transformed the Furies into the Eumenides, loving spirits who through their wise counsel enabled Orestes to obtain continuing good fortune.”