The Freedom of Choice

When former Nazi soldiers were put on the stand during judicial hearings on the horrors of the Holocaust, the most common response after “I was just following orders” was “I had no other choice.” These Nazi soldiers would tell the court how they were threatened to be killed if they did not obey their superiors, which gave them “no other choice.” However this was not recognized as a legitimate plea and many Nazi soldiers were executed for the horrific crimes they committed against humanity in which 6 million innocent Jewish lives were put to death.

Lately I have been listening to a series of lectures about “Existentialism,” which is the most general philosophical idea when it comes to the individual and his or her place in the world. It addresses many different aspects of human consciousness and thought, one of them being on the freedom of choice. According to the philosopher Sarte, we always have choice regardless of our situations. Even given the extreme example of Nazi soldiers during the Holocaust; they literally did have the option of not following orders from their superiors, although it might have ended in severe punishment or death.

Our lives are definitely not as dramatic as soldiers from World War II, but we might often feel suffocated and that we have a severe lack of choice in our lives. Some of us may feel constrained by the will of our parents and feel that we have “no choice” but to follow their wishes, rather than our own. They might end up dictating what majors we are to study in college or even what careers we pursue under familial pressure, the threat of withdrawal of financial support, or even as severe as the idea of disownment. Even under these kinds of circumstances we still have choice.

You still do have the choice of choosing your own major and pursuing your own career. Your parents do not literally have you locked up and tied to a wall which prevents you from making these decisions. Rather, we just choose to comply with their wishes because we are afraid of the repercussions. But think about it. You are the only one who holds the power of making the decision in your hands, legally and physically. When you are over 18, the law gives you the freedom of choice and to be fully independent from your parents and make your own decisions. And as long as you are not locked down in the cellar of a basement, you have the ability to pursue whatever your heart desires.

However for some reason, people internalize the idea that they have “no choice” and are never able to see all the other options that they may have. If you are miserable in your life, you have the option to be happy. It is just a matter if you make the decision to pursue it or not.  There must be a reason why you are unhappy. Missing love in your life? Go out, join clubs, and try to meet people that you are compatible with. Miserable at your job? Quit it and find another job. Tired of being overweight and made fun and judged by others? Clean up your eating habits and start exercising regularly.

Now you might be thinking to yourself “its not that easy.” You might be considering that there are all of these other complications that I am not taking into consideration. This is true to a certain degree. Although we do have the freedom to choice; it might not always be absolute. For example, although we have the freedom of choice, we cannot decide to run if we have no legs. The same goes for the idea of wanting to see if we are blind.

Although we literally do have the choice to make almost any decision in our lives, we must approach this from a practical and pragmatic point of view. If you were a mother of 5 and working full-time to support your family, it would probably be a terrible idea to quit your job to pursue art. Although the action of calling your employer and quitting would be physically possible, it wouldn’t be very logical.

Although we have the freedom to choice, it is most often excuses which get in our way. When is the last time that we told ourselves that we were going to exercise and lose weight but only to make the excuse that we were too tired or that we don’t have enough free time? We constantly make excuses to not to do something rather than make the excuse to do something.

We got to quit being lazy by constantly making excuses to transfer the blame away from ourselves. We are the only ones who control our lives, nobody else. When we are unhappy, we are always quick to blame someone else or something else. We are fat because of McDonalds. We are stupid because of television. We are bored because life is dull. We never take responsibilities for ourselves and for our own actions.

We constantly have the power of choice, regardless of how subtle it may be. If there is a new hobby that we want to pursue, we cannot make the excuse that “we don’t have enough time” or “we’re too busy.” Anybody can make an extra 30 minutes a day in free time. If we learn to cut something out of our schedule such as watching TV or surfing the net, this time can become easily available to us. Or even to people who don’t do that, we can wake up 30 minutes earlier or sleep 30 minutes later. There is never a legitimate excuse for not following our passions. If we want to pursue music, pick up your dusty guitar and start playing. If we want to lose weight, put on your shoes and go outside. If we want to feel loved, pick up the phone and talk to a friend.

We gotta quit making excuse and take responsibility of our lives. Live life to the fullest and with passion. Remember, the world is yours.

Passion

In the philosophy of existentialism, to “exist” is to be passionate. Passion gives us the motivation to take control of our lives and gives us a reason to live. According to this philosophy, no matter how many oppressive forces that we have in our lives that may hold us back, we all ultimately have the power to make our own decisions in our lives. College is the first time in our lives that we become independent from our parents by moving into the dorms where there is nobody constantly looking over you and telling you what to do. We get to choose whether we want to wake up in the mornings and go to our lectures, whether we want to study or hang out with our friends, and even what time we can go to sleep. All of this freedom without the constant nagging of our parents.

In college, we are also allowed to choose what classes we want to take and what majors we want to study, instead of being spoon-fed the same curriculums in high school. This freedom can thus empower us with the ability to shape the context of our own education, but it can create a ton of stress as well. Although we no longer live with our parents while we are in school, there can be constant family pressure to pursue a certain major or field of study for us to be “successful.” We are often told to choose “practical” majors which will give us high-paying jobs that are full of prestige such as being a doctor, a lawyer, or even an engineer.

However you must decide to choose a major which you are passionate about. You cannot let your parents dictate what you are to study. I have a great first-hand experience when it comes to this. When I was entering college, my parents wanted me to be a doctor and thus I chose Biology as my major. However only a few weeks in the curriculum, I found that I genuinely despised the material and didn’t feel that I was getting anything fulfilling from it. I told my parents and they told me to simply “suck it up” and continue. I attempted to just “stick it out,” but I found myself getting more and more depressed the further I delved into the subject material. I knew that I had to switch my major and pursue another major that I was truly passionate about to find meaning and satisfaction.

I soon stumbled upon Sociology and it sounded interesting as it addressed many different subject matters when it comes to society. And with it piquing my interest, I made the plunge and took a leap of faith and changed my major. After a quarter of studying Sociology, I knew that I made the right decision. I found myself for the first time in my life actually wanting to go to class and I immersed myself into the class materials and readings. I felt empowered by the knowledge that I was learning and my world-view started to change. I started to see things for the way they truly were, rather than what I was taught to believe by society. And three years later after my freshman year, I find myself wanting to get a Masters and a PhD in the field.

Family pressures can often be a very difficult obstacle to overcome, but you must realize that in the end, you are the one who can make the ultimate decision. Regardless of how much pressure you may face, you are the only one able to choose your major, not your mom or your dad. Sure your parents may even threaten of disowning you if you decide to pursue History or another major instead of being that world-famous doctor they wanted you to be, but don’t worry; those are all bluffs. Your parents have dedicated the last 18 years or so raising you with love and support, so they will continue to support you regardless  of what decisions you make.

So decide to pursue what you are truly passionate about, not what makes a lot of money or sounds “practical.” College is not job training, it is “life training.” Through college, you learn about the world around you and learn to see it in a different way, while developing the critical skills in being an independent thinker. You will also learn how to better interact with other people and create some of the deepest bonds in your life. You have only one life to live. Live life to the fullest without regrets. After all, if you don’t pursue your passions, you will always feel empty and longing for more. And on a philosophical level, fail to even exist.