Basic Psychology knowledge every leader must know-Part 2

Freewill vs determinism

Having freedom and being in charge of our own lives is one of the most cherished values in life. But how many of us are really free? Do people act according to their own volition and make efforts towards reaching their potential? Or are they human androids programmed by society and genes?

No matter how much effort and practice Sachin Tendulkar puts in, he cannot outwit Vishwanath Anand on the 64 square battlefield; Similarly Anand cannot wield the bat as skillfully as Sachin does even if he had practiced cricket from childhood. Every person has unique physical and mental capabilities determined by genes passed on to us by our parents. Aishwarya Rai’s beauty is something given to her by nature, the epithet-‘the most beautiful women in the world’ is a gift of nature to her. But what she has done with that gift is determined by Aish herself. She learned skills such as classical dancing and acting; she choose to be grounded despite her international fame(she let go off many hollywood film roles to honor her domestic commitments), above all she worked hard. Though there are more beautiful women in the world, they may fail to achieve the same level of successes as Aish due to lack of efforts from their side.

The famous English philosopher John Locke on the other hand says that human mind is a tabula rasa(a blank slate) upon which experience imprints knowledge. We live in societies which have certain norms and values, and different social institutions have certain mechanisms to make our behavior confirm to those norms and values. For example, parents smile and give reinforcements(sweets/dolls) to a child for behaving in a socially acceptable way; teachers give punishments ; friends use peer pressure to internalize a certain ‘acceptable behavior’ and religion uses fear to make us conform to its teachings. Due to this our behavior is being invariably molded and manipulated every day. The family you were born in to, the school you went to, the kind of friendships and relations we cultivate in life, all have profound impact on our lives. These environmental factors fosters certain attitudes and values in us, which determine the kind of life choices we make, the prejudices and stereotypes we hold and even the level of achievement motivation we have.

It seems our lives are being determined by society this time over which we have little control. But there have been many individuals in the past who went against the conventional social norms and achieved success. Copernicus challenged Church’s geo-centric view of universe for which he was burned at the stake before laying foundation for a scientific revolution in renaissance. Rajaram Mohan Roy successfully challenged the ‘Sati’ custom facing enormous opposition even from his mother! Dhoni deviated from orthodox batting and invented helicopter shot.

Though there is truth in both views that our behavior is determined by both genes and our environment(society), this is not the end of story. Human beings are unique in the sense that they have capability for reasoning and acting autonomously. In many cases we act according to our freewill. This explains how Dhirubhai Ambani coming from a poor family could become one of India’s greatest entrepreneurs and how the great ‘tiger Pataudi’ despite being blind in one eye went on to become India’s greatest test captain.

There are many such remarkable individuals who despite debilitating physical and social limitations became successful individuals. Dr Br Amedkar was born in to a Mahar caste and was treated as an ‘untouchable’, he faced severe socio-economic discrimination from school days itself. He later wrote about his school experiences about how the dalit children had to wait for the school peon to come and pour water from a height in to their hands as they were not allowed to touch the drinking glass and they were made to sit outside the classroom and listen to the teachers. Facing such utter humiliation and discrimination, a lesser person would lose self belief and would resort to fatalistic thinking and accepts their condition as decided by so called fate. But the young Ambedkar was undaunted. He decided not to let society determine his life. He used his freewill to break free off the social shackles and went on to become a world renowned scholar and architect of Indian constitution which now determines how Indian society functions!-a constitution having equality and justice as core principles.

Ludwig van Beethoven is regarded as the most influential composers of western music of all time. He was a child prodigy, but he began to lose his hearing capacity by the age of 30, in the last decade of his life, he was completely deaf. The disability  fundamentally affected his art, he could not hear what he composed, so he stopped giving public concerts. This caused him severe distress and created suicidal tendencies in him. However he began to find meaning in life through his art and regained motivation to compose music. It is said that he produced his best music during this time.

These individuals are more than just interesting anecdotal personalities. Besides their other remarkable contributions to society, the most useful function they serve is that they provide inspiration and stand as real life example of how people limited in capacity by nature and society can use freewill to script their own destiny.

Indians suffer from high sense of fatalism, believing that their present condition is determined by so called fate or Karma and that they cannot do anything to change it. This sort of thinking has dire consequences for society. This mentality creates ‘good’ slaves for the masters, this makes us adapters of technology and not discoverers and inventors of science, this emasculates us in to accepting status-quo rather than challenging conventional social norms. We must free ourselves from these notions of ‘adjusting’ and taking pride in ‘followers-of-rules’. Young India needs to confirm less, question more and lead the world. The future transformative leaders and entrepreneurs of the country need to ingrain the truth of ‘self-determination’ in their mind to make the life of their’s as well as others better.

Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.

-Jawaharlal Nehru


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