You Can’t Make Me…But Free Will Can

Remove the perception of choice and you’re in fact more likely to recoil from cooperation and go a different direction altogether*.

Who doesn’t know this? Who doesn’t use it? Many of us. Much of the time. Except my mother, who said about my father: “I always made him think it was his idea.” It was a happy marriage after all. But her approach has been awkward at best for the straight shooter I like to think I am—even if it is an approach more consistent than my own with the study referenced here below.

Using “Public Goods,” an economic contribution game (participants put money in a pot to later split), this study shows that corrupting our sense of free will corrupts our natural inclination to cooperate along with it. Nice to hear them say, “…people are intuitively cooperative.” Reminds me of Matt Ridley, who said so too, in The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. I cut my Evolutionary Psychology teeth on Ridley, and try to pass along to my clients as much as I can that we are wired up as much to take care of each other as we are to take care of ourselves**.

So what to do when we have stepped on someone else’s sense of free will, even if it was only a request that made that person feel like it was not so much his/her idea? Well, we have options. Option 1: Breathe (3 beautiful breaths, in through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath), and wait…because the selfishness that accompanies a corrupted sense of free will is only a temporary corruption of one’s otherwise sweet self. And if we can’t or don’t feel like waiting, Option 2: Take care of whatever it is ourselves—if our cost-benefit analysis suggests that what we get via our own agency (plans, actions) outstrips the cost of the other noticing we took matters into our own hands.

Same thing in reverse when someone else has stepped on our own sense of free will. First we breathe the selfishness away; then we do the right thing, which sometimes, albeit not always, means doing the thing we have been asked to do. As usual, all about responding rather than reacting, all about pausing long enough to kick the matter upstairs to put the higher brain in charge. People step on each other’s sense of free will all the time. Opportunities abound. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“Do we have free will?” March 1, 2016

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


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