Choices

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In my last Bossypants blog, I wrote about Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Persons with NPD and assorted other personality disorder don’t think they have a disorder. Instead, they blame everyone around them for their troubles, and for the ubiquitous misery they cause.

Remember this old joke? How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.

If the light bulb has a personality disorder, this is highly unlikely.

As co-authors of a Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text, and some other psychologically fascinating books, my far less bossy husband (https://johnsommersflanagan.com/) and I engage in endless speculation about how to alleviate suffering and facilitate human growth and development. True, people rarely change for the better if they don’t want to. But people can and do change.

Most of us like to believe in free will, the human capacity for conscious choice. But we are finite beings. Biologically, we’re limited to the attributes we were born with, and whatever we might add surgically or medically to those basics. Broadly, this is referred to as “nature.” We are also shaped by the external world—by those who love us, feed us, admire us, or abandon us. And this is referred to as “nurture.” Nurture. Nature. Together, these two 1) account for a very large percentage of who we are, and 2) heavily influence–or even limit–our choices.

Further, some argue that free will is an illusion because we’re genetically programed to reproduce. Behaviors (and choices) are thus dictated by the biological mandate to successfully reproduce with the best partners as often as possible. The more offspring carrying forth our genes, the better—so the argument goes. Of course, no one has yet successfully interviewed a gene, so a lot of these “selfish gene” explanations remain theoretical, and exceptions to the rule are as interesting as the supposed rule. But we’ll leave this discussion for another day.

Here’s what Dr. Bossypants believes. We are sentient, conscious beings, and we do make choices. These choices are influenced by many factors, including:

  • our parents, first grade teachers or that coach we had in seventh grade
  • our biological attributes or needs
  • our desire to successfully reproduce
  • the drugs we take, repeated blows to our heads, and difficulties in our lives.

But even with those forces in play, choices are still to a large degree our own.

Making good choices is more difficult for some people than others, but having the ability and the right to make choices remains a defining feature of what it means to be human. Choices can be loving or hateful, constructive or destructive, selfish or generous. We can choose to be honest or to lie. We can choose to work for our own gain, regardless of what it costs others, or we can choose balance, keeping ourselves and our neighbors equally in mind.

From the perspectives of Alfred Adler, certain feminists, the Dalai Lama, Carl Rogers, Jesus, and many other highly educated and thoughtful people, humans are happiest and healthiest when they choose to be compassionate, generous, honest, and constructive. For what it’s worth, I concur.

And yes, that’s me, second to the last on the right. Whoa.

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