Monday, September 27, 2010

An Essay -

“Wishing to be free doesn’t make it happen.”

The renewed interest in a person’s ability to influence their future by using the ”law of attraction” stirs memory of the debates and discussions among intellectuals from centuries past. The question of people’s ability to influence their present circumstances vs. having little choice to change their lives outcome was once discussed only by theologians and religious philosophers. In his essay, “ The Common People”, Thomas Paine identified the decision to rebel against the established order as rooted in an earlier challenge to ecclesiastical thinking regarding man’s relationship in the order of the Universe. Though this challenge was not original with William of Occam (1288-1347), he wrote about people’s free choice to determine their circumstance. William of Occam was a Franciscan Priest who managed to be excluded from the Church for his views. Occam’s Razor, as his writings became known, alienated the established powers from those who dared to think independently. Although the American Revolution was original in its scope, the ideas fueling it had begun 400 years prior.

The fateful doctrine that Occam proposed was referred to as “nominalism”, as opposed to “determinism”, the prevailing doctrine of his time, The Determinists, in a very general sense, believed that the degree to which human beings have influence over their future is itself dependent on present and past. A pervasive sense of determinism had given great power to the keepers and interpreters of history and the meaning of life. Ignorance of the masses was a requirement for the proliferation of this system.

As the colonies were established in the New World, the disparate views of determinism and nominalism came into full play. Rather than “planting” the determinist mindset of the mother country on new soil, the colonists became more and more autonomous in their thought and actions. American colonial resistance to British economic and political policies began to emerge. It became clearer with each step taken by the leaders of the resistance that impending revolt was necessary. The resistance is exemplified by the attorney Patrick Henry, who at age 27, argued that the colonists had the right to determine the rate of taxes charged to them by the British monarchy. Two years later, upon becoming a member of the Colonial House of Burgesses, Henry made an impassioned speech that aided in the passage of the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. This action was considered to be one of the main catalysts for the Revolution. The Stamp Act Resolutions asserted the right to be taxed by one’s own representatives and stated that no other power had that right. Henry also stated, “….If this be treason, make the most of it”. This resolution of the colonists was the most anti-British American political action to that point.

Resistance against the British American political system led by Patrick Henry and other dissidents is the most obvious feature of the struggle for American independence. However, the quieter and more important battle fought within the hearts and minds of each and every colonist. New arrivals to the colonies experienced more success than they had ever hoped for back on the Continent. The inertia that comes with success was a challenge for those colonists who were urging toward self rule. The success that the colonists had experienced was the outcome of their own actions, yet this very fact made it difficult for them to want change in their political system. They believed that their success somehow still depended on the colonial relationship with Britain.

Positive results from our efforts seem to indicate continued success in the future. This belief is captured in the familiar saying, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. The leaders of the resistance understood that the system was flawed and was going to eventually create the same outcomes as the colonists had experienced on the Continent. The greater battle for the colonists was to give up the illusion of safety and prosperity for conflict and unknown outcomes. Gradually, one by one, many of the colonists began to understand that the force which seemed to bring safety and order to their lives threatened to limit their potential to subsistence and mediocrity. The very essence of their imagination, creativity and industry was the next realm the monarchy and its aristocrats would seek control.

Most of the leaders and supporters of the resistance to the British political and economic system were very often financially successful and lived comfortably, but felt the fetters of a repressive system on their imagination and creative spirits. They were joined by countless men and women that had arrived in the colonies as indentured servants and earned their freedom. They too experienced the encroachment of the economic and political system. The joining of these two forces created a powerful movement of individuals seeking economic, political, intellectual and spiritual freedom from an oppressive political system. The American Revolution became a battlefield for the ideological struggle that had been emerging between the “nominalist” and “determinist” for over 500 years. There had been tremors scattered throughout time and many casualties, but never had such momentum been attained until this moment in history. Little did these players understand their primacy in the struggle for human freedom!

The resistance became revolution! The reluctant ‘subjects’ became impassioned ‘citizens’. Initiative replaced compliance. Passion and initiative are powerful creative forces. This became the “leveling factor” –the common ground for the common man and woman. There was no separation based on the elements contained in the “determinist” view – a view which fostered status, entitlement and privilege. As expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the new order which the colonists sought to establish was inclusive. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Each and every day you and I have a challenge similar to the one faced by those great souls whose courage and resolve has gifted us with the freedom to choose our own future. Each day we are engaged in the struggle articulated by the sages from our past. Their ideas and thoughts were so powerful that they became reality. The challenge I meet each day is the choice between bowing to what seems to be “determined” by the circumstances of my past or creating my own present circumstances. “The choice to bargain with life on my own terms” is a reality.

The choice to bargain with life on their own terms is reflected in the concluding phrase of the Colonists signing the Declaration of Independence –“ And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” The changes in the men who pledged their lives, fortune and honor were made a step at a time. Few of them imagined upon taking the first step that such a declaration would be forthcoming. Their freedom at the time of this declaration had not been secured. Yet it was more than a thought or wish. It existed within their hearts and minds as a reality on its way. Freedom was to be had to the extent they were willing to have it. When we bargain with life on our own terms there is freedom.

A choice to freedom is a commitment. It goes far beyond a wish or hope. Wishing and hoping can easily become the strategy of choice for those bound by “deterministic” thinking. Superstition and luck become tools to deal with circumstances. The American Revolution didn’t end deterministic thinking. However, it demonstrated the power of individual and collective choice to change present circumstance. Deterministic thinking causes people to limit their potential to their present circumstances. It does not allow the power of choice and action toward a new circumstance. Ironically there are many who reject “evolution” in favor of “creation” theories of human existence yet still seem bound by the circumstances of their lives. They live as if they are waiting for something to happen or evolve.

The American revolutionists were certainly true creationists. They believed that they could bring in to existence something that had never existed before. Believing that you can bargain with life on your terms may very well create an internal revolution of your thought process. As in most revolutions, the status quo comes under close scrutiny, if not criticism. The struggle to freedom requires each one of us to examine our beliefs. Which of these beliefs are those that a monarch holds the power to determine what is right or wrong for our lives? Which are the beliefs managed through a theocracy? What of other beliefs which have created all of the should(s), must(s), have-to(s), can’t(s) that rattle around in our head? Imagine the guilt that many of the early colonists wrestled with while deliberating their alignment with the rebellion.

A mere wish or hope is often all one can afford while being held the hostage of ‘predetermined’ forces. However, this wish or hope can become the bridge to a greater level of awareness. There exists in each one of us a pattern that seeks to increase. There is intuitive knowing which allows our awareness to recognize that anything which is not expanding or growing is in the state of decline. Atrophy or status quo is an early stage of decline. A descriptive term for a higher level of awareness is aspiration. We all have known this level in one form or another. It is the pull toward expansion and being more alive. This level of awareness has the high price of indecision, at times confusion, and at other times agony Aspiration prods us to ask the question “Do I remain in the familiar or do I take the next step into uncertainty?”

It was in this stage of aspiration that our country’s founders remained for a number of years prior to 1776. As they struggled with the question, taking one step then another, a change began to occur. This change challenged each colonist individually. Each knew their choice was to either make a commitment to remain with hopes and wishes or to make a commitment to stretch themselves to a new level of knowing their true nature and character. One by one, they made their personal choice and put themselves into the battle, no longer wishing for someone to simply agree with them and grant them freedom. Rather, they arrived at the truth that only their actions would gain the freedom they had come to desire. Coming to the truth is a process that each one of us must experience if we are to declare our own independence from the known, familiar and comfortable. The colonists placed their very lives, fortunes, and honor as their admission to freedom from circumstances…to freedom on their own terms.

True freedom comes only as we begin to change our internal paradigms. To be free we can no longer be controlled by circumstance. To be free we must know that we are in control of our own experience. To be free we must take actions knowing that we have power to create circumstances on our own terms. Knowing in every cell of our being that, we “… hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” © Russell A. Hardesty 2008