How much of who and what we are is really in our control? Answering this question might help us to better understand each other.
What don’t we choose?:
- Our race, sex, and other genetics
- Our parents
- Our country, region, and culture we are born into
- The basic personality we are born with
- The list could go on and on but you get the idea.
From there we are raised in an environment that we did not choose. The people, places and things we experienced are all related to things we did not choose. Stop and think about that for a moment.
We also have chemicals coursing through our bloodstream that influence our thoughts and behaviors. These chemicals are adrenaline, dopamine, cortisol and etc. If you are a combat veteran or anyone who has lived in a sustained stressful situation you may be more familiar than most with the feelings these chemicals cause. You did not choose to have these chemicals running through your body.
It does not end there. All the things above are building blocks for who we will become. We might think we are making decisions in life that are free. However, all the decisions that come in life are built upon a set of things we had no control over. Everything is cause and effect. Never once have we observed a causeless effect.
It may help to keep the following simple statement in mind when getting angry at someone: “That could have been me.“
There are at least two other popular sayings that have been born out of this thought process. “You need to walk a mile in their shoes to understand.” and “There but for the grace of God go I.” These popular sayings came about because we generally understand who and what we are is not a clear-cut choice.
Nobody would suggest that we should not hold people accountable for their words and deeds. Societal order would break down and there would be complete anarchy. Below is a quick story I heard long ago.
A murderer stood before a judge waiting to be sentenced. The judge asked if he had anything to say before he ruled. The man said:
“Your honor, you know my life story. You know I had no real control over the things that made me what and who I am. I had no real choice but to murder those people.”
The judge responded:
“You are correct. I too am a man who has no real choice. Therefore, I regrettably have to sentence you to hang by the neck until dead.”
If we think the last few years have been stressful, just wait. It is going to get worse before it gets better. During this time, cooler heads must prevail in order to keep the peace. Remember that the person you disagree with could have been you and you could have been them.
We should keep fighting for what we believe in. However, it may help if we do it with a little more understanding.