VOLITION IS COMPLEX
We talk about ‘doing what we want to do’ as though it were the simplest thing in the world. But volition is complex.
For instance, someone on a diet may ‘want’ to lose weight, but they may also ‘want’ the cake in front of them. Doing what they want to do involves a choice between conflicting wants.
Someone in a relationship may ‘want’ to be faithful, but they may also ‘want’ a sexual encounter proffered by circumstance. Again, doing what they want to do involves a choice between conflicting wants.
THE NEED FOR WISDOM
In any situation, it is hard to remove the need for the skill of practical wisdom. Value needs to be ascribed to alternatives, and the imagination needs to envisage possible outcomes.
THE POSITIVE SIDE OF URGES
The above is the negative side of the dilemma. But there is a positive side to urges.
Human beings are evolved from generations of organisms driven by ‘wanting’. Hunger is a simple example, without which we might starve ourselves. Sex drive is another, without which the species may not exist.
The positive side is that our urges have kept our ancestors alive; they are the reason we are here at all. We ignore them at our peril, since they can arise at any time.
THE EMERGENCE OF IMAGINATION
Over millions of years, though, alongside our basic urges, we have developed extraordinary conceptual ability. Two main abilities change the game:
- The ability to imagine the future
- The ability to imagine social consequences
These are two of the most important feedback loops in adult thinking and behaviour. When we can imagine the future, then we can eat less now, to be healthier tomorrow. When we can imagine social consequences, we can have less sex now, to be known as faithful or healthy tomorrow.
IT TAKES TIME TO LEARN
It takes us time to develop the wisdom to use these feedback loops. For instance, we have not yet harnessed the future-thinking feedback loop that would reverse climate change. And many of us haven’t harnessed the social thinking that would respect others (resulting in peace), rather than disrespecting others (resulting in battles).
WE ARE HALF-ENLIGHTENED ANIMALS
We are half-enlightened animals. Sometimes we are incredibly short-sighted, and feed our urges at the expense of our future. Sometimes we are socially unwise, and fail to respect others.
Yet on occasion, we can find a discipline that brings us well-managed resources, and well-trained bodies and minds. On occasion, too, we can find a social awareness which is respectful to others, and promotes harmony.
We can’t forget our animal side, because the urges are there. But we can use our enlightened side to help build a better-resourced, more peaceful community.
OUR CHOICES TODAY
We can ‘do what we want to do’ – but where are we sourcing our wants? Will we do what the animal wants to do, or what the wise person wants to do? Do we want life to be short and embattled, or long and peaceful.
I am sure the animal in you has a strong emotional influence. But I am also sure that, once you have suffered a while, the wise person in you will emerge as a strong leader.