Guest Column: With freedom comes responsibility for actions
In my weekly reading of our Sierra Sun and in particular, the editorial and letters to the editor page, I am pleasantly reminded of the wonderful freedom we have in this country to express our thoughts, feelings and opinions.
Though we may not always like what we see and hear, having the freedom to express ourselves is well worth the possible discomfort. In any case, at least to me, it by far beats the alternative, which is where self-expression is not allowed and is stifled. If one has any doubts about which alternative is better, just talk to people who live or have lived in countries and cultures where these freedoms are denied.
As I contemplate this subject I also find myself remembering that our founding fathers fled from England due to persecution and limits placed on their freedoms. We see as well, on a daily basis, people fleeing their homelands to come to the U.S.A., where they have freedom and opportunity.
In countries where people are not allowed freedom of expression their behavior is determined and circumscribed by the government or other outside forces. These outside forces then carry the responsibility for determining people’s behavior. In countries such as ours where self-expression is not determined by outside forces we who have the freedom to express ourselves are then responsible for our actions. We are responsible for how our actions affect others, we are responsible for the consequences of our expression. Thus, we must be conscious of the potential outcomes of our actions and then act in a manner that is well thought out.
Responsible self-expression, to me, requires that I understand the factors within me that have set up my beliefs. It requires that I can allow and accept that others, given their factors, hold beliefs differing from mine and that they too are successful in their lives. It requires that I want to ‘”love my neighbor as myself.” It does not require that we all believe/perceive the same. To the degree that I can then allow for diversity of belief in my fellow human beings I can now share opinions and ideas, trying to understand (not necessarily agree with) other ideas and have it be okay to agree to disagree and continue to live side-by-side on our planet.
There are a number of factors in our human makeup that inhibit responsible behavior. The following are key variables:
1. If scientific data has validity then we can say that each of us has our own unique receptors. What we see, hear, taste, etc., is unique onto ourselves. Perhaps no two of us sense our world in exactly the same way. This is biologically based.
2. Our upbringing in our particular culture in our unique family programs us to respond to our environment in certain ways. We “inherit” certain beliefs and attitudes which then influence our behavior.
3. Our unique “personality,” probably set up genetically. Any of us who have at least two children know that at birth each of them had their own personality which by and large stays with us throughout life.
4. Variables 1, 2, and 3 interact with one another.
5. Our “genetic programming,” our will to stay alive, to survive, to be safe. We tend to want to stay in what we know and have some fear of the unknown. Thus, we tend to want to defend our known opinions and beliefs since we have survived while having them. It appears as if the stronger we hold a belief the more strongly we need to defend it, to maintain it.
6. Related to #5, we tend to assume that others hold the same beliefs as ours and if they don’t then something is wrong with them.
If these factors are generally present in us human beings it would probably follow that when we perceive others expressing opinions and beliefs contrary to ones we feel strongly about we would become defensive or offensive to defend our belief. This would take the form of behaviors such as; dismissing the other, name-calling and threatening or criticizing, and using outside authority to validate a belief.
While these reactions are designed to maintain the validity of my belief they have a slim chance of convincing others of that belief and in fact tend to create distance and ill will, and even hurt, in the other person. This consequence does not fall into my definition of responsible actions.
Let’s express ourselves in a respectful manner, knowing that we are each separate and unique. Whatever our opinion, we are worthy of respect, whether we are the speaker or the listener.
Of special note here is that most of us have the greatest difficulty living this way in our marriages. We tend to automatically believe that our spouse should be a certain way and that usually creates problems. I bring up this note as I, in my practice as a psychologist, spend much of my time helping couples create more fulfilling marriages.
(RoIf Godon Ph.D. is a longtime resident and psychologist in Truckee. He and life partner Tanzy Maxfield also present weekend couples workshops. To find out more call 587-2557.)
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