Arnold Siegel
Mar 26 · 3 min read
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We are a complex mixture of needs and desires, and we don’t like them foiled! We have hopes and a sense of how life should be. Even if they’re not fully articulated, we are disappointed, irritated or infuriated when someone, or the situation as we had imagined it playing out, doesn’t measure up.

In fact, if we are angry, irked or outraged, odds are someone has not measured up. Maybe she’s been willful, or he stubborn, or she selfish and irresponsible, or he egoistic and incompetent, or she a big-mouthed know-nothing or he a pretentious know-it-all, or she manipulative, immature and cheeky or he domineering, obstinate and just plain wrong.

And that’s the mild version. We can’t help but overhear (or get pulled into) heated battles between parent and teen, husband and wife, siblings, partners in love or law, neighbors, politicians or ordinary voters.

What we forget at these adversarial moments is that the people we had counted on to make our lives successful are themselves a complex mixture of needs and desires. And they don’t like them foiled! Practically since the day they were born, they, too, want what they want; what WE want is rarely their primary concern.

Half of us want to live the unexamined life, moving, moving, moving, assimilating naturally and easily into the culture, the conventions and the rewards of the time. And half of us don’t. We want to write our own marching orders, to look and ponder, to surmise and reevaluate; we don’t mind rewriting. But all of us are inevitably the central character in our own drama, and its prospective storyline privileges our own agenda.

Willfulness is an ancient reflexive, bred-in-the-bone, aggressive and defensive response to being in the world. And we’ve not shed this rivalrous impulse as evolutionary baggage unnecessary in these modern times. In fact, this very same impulse has been appropriated and honed by the Scoreboard. It drives us to acquire the stuff and status that symbolize the righteousness of our willfulness.

It’s important to remember that this dug-in, teeth-clenched, clash of wills is not unique to you, or to me. Virtually everyone we know is similarly dug-in. Some do it with some grace, their grim determination somewhat under wraps. Some do it with a lot of spin; they’re convincing when it comes to why their will should be done. Some menace. Some cajole. Some tantrum. Some pretend to cooperate. Some accuse and misrepresent. And on and on.

However, affinity and the reconciling reach of its attractive force permits us, despite the inevitable clash of wills, to enchant and describe our world with transcendent or sacred, traditional or humanist values such as understanding, flexibility, tolerance, gentility, forgiveness and fair-minded, morally construed operating principles.

We can create an affinity for the love and pursuit of moral strength and a talent for acquiring the resources of the intelligence, heartfulness or generosity and competence that we find in such a quest. Through these dedicated efforts, we can create an existential freedom and will, born of expansiveness, gratitude and humility — each an elegant mark of manner and expression that distinguishes our commitment to what is decent and humane. In each case, the rivalrous brute willfulness built into the immediate living system is transcended in favor of affinity, affection and attraction.

Though we can’t fully understand the laws of nature and how the universe works, we can command how we will act. For the most part, we don’t get split-second control over our initial response. We see red. Our blood will boil. But we are gifted with the ability to pause, reflect, create and get over or transcend the roiling nerves and blood — all in the hope that we will gain some traction and play out our lives in this puzzling world with more mercy, kindness, compassion, timeliness and contribution.

I’ve been teaching classes on autonomy and life for over 30 years. These classes offer a unique and powerful governing philosophy for practical living. They stand firmly on America’s promise of freedom, justice and equality and the opportunity to create a life of our own design. More information is available on my website: autonomyandlife.com.

Arnold Siegel

Written by

Philosopher, Contemporary American thinker, Founder of Autonomy and Life https://autonomyandlife.com

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