We humans have the inbornintention of freedom of choice, and we may go to great lengths to exercise it freely. Nevertheless, there are many ways our choices are limited. This can be merely frustrating or lead to deadly conflict.
Let’s look at some of the ways our choices are restricted.
Societal norms. Two titanic societal norms come to mind, slavery and universal suffrage. It took the Civil War in the United States in the 1860s to end the socially acceptable (in some parts of the country) institution of slavery. It was not until 1920 that a sufficient number of states ratified the 19th amendment assuring women the right to vote and hold office.
Sadly, these struggles are not over. There continues to be examples of individuals forced into situations not of their choosing (women sold or tricked into prostitution), and politicians enacting laws that have the effect of restricting minority voters.
Tradition and custom. Traditions and customs enrich the culture of those holding them and it would be tragic to lose these rich heritages. However, if an individual wished to exercise his/her freedom of choice and abandon that heritage, they would find it difficult to do so. The community would not find their leaving acceptable.
Laws. Laws are necessary in order for society to function, otherwise anarchy, chaos and confusion would result. We may not like to pay taxes, but law enforcement, firefighters, schools and the infrastructure such as roads and bridges must be paid for by the community at large.
Economics. On the first day of an economics class at Xavier University, the professor defined economics as “the allocation of limited resources to unlimited demands.” We simply do not have enough funds, either as an individual or a society, to do all that we would like or need to do. Choices must be limited as a consequence.
Limited knowledge and information. It’s been said that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Maybe, maybe not. But it is usually a recipe for disaster when one undertakes to accomplish (make choices) in matters that they know nothing about.
Conflicting responsibilities. The demands of life are such that making a choice in one direction compromises your ability to choose in other areas. One classic example of this is that choosing to spend the time and energy required to earn a living does not leave the time and energy important for your family. The best that can be done here is to strive for balance.
Basic beliefs. The restrictions mentioned above are mainly external, but your subconscious basic beliefs are the most powerful factors restricting your freedom of choice. Since basic beliefs determine what you think, say, feel and do, you are restricted in your thoughts, feelings and actions by what you believe.
What can be done to increase your ability to choose? First, become aware of your limitations and then decide whether to accept them or work towards removing the barrier(s). This is a valuable skill to develop because you will be faced with making choices daily. It is the wise person who recognizes his/her limitations and addresses them aggressively.
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