Yesterday a semi-new co-worker gave me a ride home. I say semi-new because he had worked at our brother school and this year has transfered to our school. We talked mostly about what co-workers talk about: work. But since our school is such a philosophical outlier in terms of education practice and style, work conversations tend to be very broad.
Eventually we got to talking about the ability to live with your own failure, and how that can be what separates people who need to be told exactly what to do and people who don’t. I’ve always kind of wondered about people who need continuous, clear, and detailed commands; is it that they cannot think for themselves or is it that they like being bossed around?
I’m much more adapted or inclined (who knows at this point) to Commandment Boundaries (or if you’re less religious and more Enlightenment-y, Negative Liberties); here are the parameters of what you can’t do, but other than that, go nuts. (Alright, actually, it’s not a really good comparison to Negative Liberties, because that is about what the government can’t do to the individual because the individual should be as free as possible. Wait, I’m getting side-tracked by my own tangent.) It was a total game-changer for me when Fr. Jedi explained that the 10 Commandments are not there to dictate my every action, but rather to allow me the freedom to do as much good as possible because I would have a clear line between what was good and what was not. It was pretty much the way I had always been, the way I was raised, and the way I liked, but he put it in such better terms than I could. (I love it when you hear someone say something that you’ve been trying to say for forever!)
So even though I am a ridiculously organize and structured person (I like things just so and have a system in place for almost everything) that is not because I need/want someone to tell me how to do those things. I like to tell myself! It’s because I like order, it makes me calm. Order can easily become rigidity and then I turn into a crazy person, so I have to be very careful with myself. But essential my desire to have everything just the way I want them is much more to do with pride than with fear. My way is best, your way is stupid. I’m not worried that if I relinquish control for a few moments that everything will fall apart. Not at all. Other people are capable and competent, I’m sure that life would go on just swimmingly without my picking up the pieces. But the things I’m good at I’m really good at, so why shouldn’t I do them? Maybe more importantly, I’m relentlessly pulled at by the siren song of laziness; I will gladly lull myself into a state of sloggy, sloppy do-nothingness if I don’t have some idea of the patterns I’ve set for my day. I rarely achieve all I set out to do, but the goals are there, so I know if I’m making a decision to do something else, nothing at all, or just didn’t get to everything. I know myself well enough to know I need some internal accountability.
But the idea of being told what to do, and when, and how, just makes me want to throw up. And then punch people. And then throw up some more on the people I’ve just punched. It grates upon the very essence of my being that someone else would make my choices for me. Even if my choices turn out be flaming disasters that leave me broken and demoralized, I would rather be that than relinquish even a fraction of my free will. I would much rather fail by choice then succeed by enthrallment. (Of course, within the moral framework of the Catholic teaching.)
Now, having said all this, I think I need to try to be a bit more understanding when my roommate doesn’t want to put her shoes in her bedroom or when my students don’t want to sit up straight in their chairs. But anyway …
The trade off is that there isn’t a ton of what people like to call “security,” either internally or externally. I make a ton of mistakes. I say the wrong thing and hurt someone. I form opinions without all of the pertinent information. I try a classroom management technique that only leads to more chaos. And I question myself all the time. I constantly wonder what I could have done differently or if I made the right choice. I have to do everything in my power to see things as clearly and truthful as I can so as not to repeat mistakes, or develop habits that will eventually be detrimental. Being a free person is hard, scary, life-long work. You have to fight and fail and pick yourself back up.
This is part of the reason that I love my school. I’m given a great deal of autonomy in my classroom and my headmaster doesn’t step in unless either I ask for help or something is not working in an undeniable way. I get to try different things, take out assignments that I don’t like, replace books with ones I think are better, take the girls out for a walk when they just need to be outside. When things don’t work I have to take responsibility for that and find a way to fix it. The easy of following a script isn’t there. Some days I’m ridiculously proud of myself for coming up with something that gets through to the girls and helps them understand a concept they were struggling with. Some days I come home in tears, overwhelmed by a sense of failure and regret.
But I wonder if the people who are not willing to take on the responsibility of their free will actually understand what they are giving up. I do. I lived for years without mine. I didn’t make choices, I performed tasks in order to receive alcohol. I have become fiercely protective of my free will because I never want to go back to my life without it. Only the redemptive sacrifice of Christ is a greater gift than our free will. Freedom is the essence of the human person; we are supposed to be free in order to be with God. The less free you are the less of a fully flourishing person you are. It might sound shocking, but alcoholism makes you less human. An alcoholic, while drinking, isn’t a person but rather an automaton.
I’m not sure someone can grasp the awe-inspiring nature of free will until they have lived without it. As frightening as mistakes can be, nothing is as frightening as loosing your humanity.
(1 Year, 11 Months, and 11 Days Sober)