Programmed in the womb by our DNA, we come into the world with natural pre-set functions. Among them is an instinctive willfulness that feels like a righteous driving force and is widely misunderstood as the very essence of who we are. However, such visceral programming is an ancient response mechanism also found in lizards, rats, etc.
This instinct can serve a valuable purpose if sufficiently developed and hitched to social and familial concerns with responsibility, accountability and trustworthiness. But if not adequately tutored and shaped by the shared reality in which we find ourselves, this willfulness may remain tethered to the limits of its programming and the misguided, self-confirming reasoning that accompanies it.
Think about it. We like to think of ourselves as objective and realistic. Too often, though, don’t we see things as we are willfully inclined, not as they are? And, as to the “facts of life,” aren’t we biased toward those that confirm the merit and privilege of our self-absorbed willfulness?
In the worst case scenario, this driving force may manifest itself as a ruthless opportunism or as a relentless display of power and an insatiable greed for acknowledgement. And even when our willfulness is less egomaniacal, it can be no less problematic. When we don’t get what it wants, we’re resentful, disappointed, disenchanted and discontent and blame our dissatisfaction on someone or something else.
In other words, the unbridled willfulness to which we are born, though natural, is often neither objectively reasoned nor in our best interest. Indeed, it may be a too weak and too flawed, illusion-filled adaptation to the complex shared reality in which we live.
Moreover, in the final analysis, our uncontrolled willfulness can be a cover up with we ourselves its main dupe. Yes, it tries to hide from others our insufficiently developed ability to use reason, rationality and civility to manage our thoughts, emotions and actions. But in the absence of such a mature ability, it is we who are left with resources that are shallow and intentions that are mean-minded, even cruel, or corrupt.
Yet, the complexities, multitudes, mysteries and vast resources of human nature offer us far more decent options than those offered by the dark side of willfulness. And it is to our larger possibilities that we have dedicated ourselves.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.