Robert J. Burrowes
One of the more subtle manifestations of the intimate link between (unconscious) human emotions and behaviour is illustrated by the simple concept of choice and how this is so often reduced to a dichotomy between two bad options. In such circumstances, most people choose whatever they consider to be ‘the lesser evil’.
But how often are there only two options, even if they appear ‘good’ and ‘bad’? Frankly, I cannot think of one circumstance in which my choices are limited to two, however good or bad they appear to be.
Why does this belief in just two options arise?
When we are born, our evolutionary inheritance includes a phenomenally powerful capacity to feel a complex range of emotions. However, because what sociologists refer to as ‘socialization’ (a process by which babies and children are supposedly taught the ways of their society) is actually a process of terrorizing babies and children into suppressing their awareness of these emotions so that they can be forced to conform to societal ‘norms’ (no matter how dysfunctional), the disastrous outcomes of ‘socialization’ are obscured. If you wish to read more about the terrorization of children, you can do so in ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice’.
This terrorizing of babies and children takes many forms but one of the most common ways it occurs is through simply telling a child what they must do under threat of punishment for non-compliance which all parents, teachers, religious figures and other adults do routinely. This imperative to obey will always run counter to the child’s own Self-will. Why is this? Because every single human baby is genetically programmed to follow their own Self-will, not to obey the will of another.
This individual Self-will is generated in response to the mental and physical feedback – including feelings, thoughts, memory, conscience, sensory perception (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste), truth register, intuition… – which each person receives and which their mind processes and integrates to crystallise the precisely appropriate behaviour in any given circumstance.
But once a child is routinely terrorized into submitting to the will of another – no matter how benign either the person giving the instruction or the instruction itself – they lose trust and faith in their own capacity to decide on a course of action and undertake it powerfully. They are now adrift without clear internal guidance and, as they grow up, they are now readily vulnerable to the ‘persuasion’ of others whether it be the opinion of someone else, the advice of an ‘expert’ or the inanity of an advertisement for a commercial product.
Adrift from their own unique and powerful internal mental processor – with its emotional, intellectual, sensory, intuitive, memory, conscience and other components – they are the victim of their own fear of being disobedient, wrong, in the minority, isolated … if they follow their own Self-will.
Unconsciously, the child feels trapped. They are terrified to do what they want without permission (which is routinely denied) but unconsciously angry about this (because they have been scared out of being openly angry at their parents and teachers) which usually manifests as something powerless such as resentment.
What does the child do in this circumstance? Obey the parent/teacher or attempt to follow their own Self-will and risk (and probably receive) punishment for doing so? What is the ‘good’ option here? Or is the child faced with a choice between two evils and must try to choose the ‘lesser’ one? In the words of Anita McKone: ‘It feels like you must either put up with abuse or die.’
Routine abuse of the child in this manner by their parents, teachers and other adults throughout their early life leaves virtually all adults with an unconscious belief that life is a series of choices between ‘lesser evils’ with an occasional ‘good’ choice allowed in limited circumstances. We might choose our meal, the color and style of our clothing, what film to watch and other such trivia. But what of anything important? No way!
Most people end up believing that there are only ever two choices on anything that matters and neither is particularly desirable. Unconsciously, they feel trapped and it makes no sense when they are told that they have many options from which to choose. This is not their experience and it just feels untrue. They will endlessly choose the lesser evil of two bad options on virtually everything that matters in their life and accept the trinket ‘goods’ they are allowed to choose, such as the nature of their hairstyle.
Long before adulthood, the child accepts a lifepath of conformity to the most mundane human existence imaginable: school, work, the occasional holiday, illness and death. A life never lived.
In essence, the terrorized child, now an adult, never looks beyond the choices given, even when both are ‘bad’ or one is trivially ‘good’.
Most people have no sense of their own Self-will in the profound sense, no faith in where this Self-will might take them if followed and, if they could/can feel it, no courage to do what their Self-will tells them.
The tragedy of virtually every human life is that they never seek out what was taken from them as a child: the Self-will that would guide them unerringly to seek out and become everything they were born to be. They are so full of fear, self-hatred and powerlessness as a result of the violence they suffered as a child, that they endlessly settle for ‘the lesser evil’ on anything important and settle for trinkets in the form of ‘good’: the choice of ice-cream flavour, the color of their socks, the novel to read, the holiday destination.
Is there a way out? Yes, but it requires you to feel your fear, anger, sadness and other feelings at what has happened to you until you are powerful enough to reject both/all ‘bad’ options and to refuse the trinkets that parody ‘good’. And to ask ‘What do I want?’ It is only by consciously and deliberately rejecting all ‘lesser evil’ options that the magnificent array of incredible opportunities which you have never contemplated/discovered will open before you to choose as you wish.
And that is why it is so difficult. You must have the courage to cut off, without the option of turning back, all options that do not give you what you need. This is because what matters is not whether you get what you need in the short term, but whether you live your truth, no matter how difficult this might be in the immediate sense.
It is the fear of burning all bridges that holds us back because, as a child, we were too scared to walk out on those who told us, one way or another, that we had no choice but to suffer their abuse or die.
But the more bridges you burn, the more magnificent will be the vista of undreamt opportunities that will open before you. And you will wonder why you never considered/saw them before. Imagine if everyone had the courage to burn the bridges of fear and to set out on their own unique path.
And to experience the sheer joy of living powerfully in every moment of their life.
But our own personal effort does not need to exclude the possibility of making it easier for others in future too. So if you would like to participate in the ongoing effort to create a world in which living powerfully is more possible for each of us, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of ‘The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World’.
If people are not afraid of violence, they are genuinely free to seek their true path.
Biodata: Robert has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his website is here.