Thursday, January 24, 2008

Options and Liberty

by Brian Klemmer

Here’s a novel thought: All people have freedom. What about those who live under a dictator? They, too, have freedom. Why? Because it’s the ability to choose, and all human beings have that, as Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl has so eloquently described, even in unimaginable circumstances. However, the consequences of their choices are far different than average circumstances. And even though all people have freedom, very few enjoy liberty.

Liberty is the ability to do what you want to do when you want to do it, to go where you want to go when you want to go there. Most important, it’s the ability to be what you want to be when you want to be it.

Compassionate samurai search for choices, solutions, and meaning in life, rather than waiting for them to appear. They try to increase the liberty that they and others enjoy. They don’t shrink from tough choices simply because they don’t like the perceived outcomes.

I believe that of all the gifts God grants us, the most powerful is choice. It’s also a very useful tool if used skillfully. It has a power that gives us the potential winner’s edge all of the time. It’s the ability to create liberty. That might sound like an unrealistic philosophy, but it isn’t. What you pick now determines what you enjoy tomorrow. What you decide not to choose also determines what you’ll never have in this lifetime.

So at the end of the day—or even at the end of your life—you can be an average person and blame others for what did or didn’t happen for you. Or you can be a compassionate samurai and enjoy yourself even amid dire circumstances and create a life of liberty for yourself and others.

If liberty is so great, why aren’t there more compassionate samurai experiencing it? The answer is because there’s a cost for everything. There’s no free lunch. Every benefit has a corresponding cost or something you must give up. There’s a price to acknowledging that you have choices (as there are different consequences for pretending that you don’t). There are costs for making the compassionate samurai choice, as well as for taking the easier way out. At West Point, we were taught always to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong. They were teaching us to be compassionate samurai. Some might argue about the compassionate part, but we’ll save that for another discussion.

If we wimp out and don’t make the right choices, we lose our liberty.

Frankl once recommended the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be complemented by a "Statue of Responsibility" on the West Coast. Perhaps he was saying that our liberty requires us to make good decisions. If we wimp out and don’t make the right choices, we lose our liberty. When we do this, we choose obvious short-term benefits with not-so-obvious long-term costs over obvious short-term costs that have not-so-obvious long-term benefits. The very nature of a compassionate samurai is to pick the latter.

I’m concerned with what I see in American society; in fact, that was the impetus for writing this book. Listen to average people complain about how their children won’t benefit from the Social Security program, yet they’re unwilling to change their lifestyle in any way. Look at how average people enjoy the benefits of their current status, but they shrink from considering the future environmental impact of their excesses on their grandchildren even to the point of being "confused" about whether global warming and other such issues are real.

Consider those who made huge amounts of money in the Enron, Tyco, and even Arthur Andersen scandals, with no concern for the thousands who lost their retirement savings as a result—let alone the damages the economy suffered or the cynicism about business that was generated. This isn’t really a new thing. Such behavior has occurred throughout history in nations and families who received abundance rather than earning it. A different, higher value is established when something is earned. When life is painful enough, moving forward becomes a more obvious and easier choice to make for the average individual.

Excerpted from The Compassionate Sumurai: Being Extraordinary in an Ordinary World by Brian Klemmer

Stumble Upon Toolbar

No comments: