In this time of war, when young men and women are dying on foreign territory, we might give a thought to courage: what it is, who has it, and how to get it. One thing we might understand about courage is that it is not the absence of fear.
It is functioning in the presence of fear, or, facing the fear and doing things anyway. But, this is physical courage, facing death and dismemberment through violence in the cause of "freedom" and for the benefit of the nation.
There are other kinds of courage that may be more familiar to most of us since we're not in combat on a daily basis. I want to address another kind of freedom and another kind of courage. What about domestic freedom and emotional courage? Are you brave enough to give your loved ones total freedom? Now that's asking a lot, don't you think?
I want to float a radical liberalidea that may seem pretty risky to many of you. What if you gave those you love the freedom to do, think and feel whatever they want to; whatever their head and heart tell them to? Then they could be themselves and you would see who they really are. Getting curious?
Actually, I think the degree of risk in this radical action might be controllable. After all, you can always take it back if it doesn't go the way you want. You can say you gave it a shot and your loved ones came up lacking, forcing you to clamp down on them again. They may resist but you have ways of bringing them to heel, don't you? If nothing else, you can always threaten dire consequences if they won't do things your way. Suicide usually gets their attention.
You could go on strike and wait while they try to get by without all the services you perform for them. You'll probably get your way soon enough.
I'm only suggesting you might try something else for a while, as a sort of an experiment, to see what people really are bringing to the table when you don't control them.
I'm not suggesting that you keep your preferences to yourself. There's a difference between saying what you want and trying to see to it others do what you want. I propose that the former is healthier for you and for your loved ones. It's braver, freer and more loving.
What makes freedom work is responsibility. Without that, freedom just brings chaos. I think people want to be responsible. They want to do the right thing. They want to do what works for others as well as for themselves. None of us operates in a vacuum. We are connected by bonds of love and duty.
The argument hearkens back to one of the oldest debates in philosophy: Is man inherently "bad," a self-seeking hedonist driven by impulses and needing the firm, controlling hand of authority over his head at all times? Or is he "good," altruistic, generous and self-sacrificing, a creature of social and spiritual morality who wants most of all to belong to and contribute to a cohort of familiar loved ones? Or, is it possible he is both?
And, if man has the capacity to be both, how do you bring out and develop the "good" side of him (or her?)
Here's what I think. You model for him the behaviors you wish him to imitate. Then, assuming he identifies with you, he will want to be like you, to have the rewards you do and to be rewarded by you. This is not control. This is instruction. This is how people learn social behaviors. Then they need to choose their own course. Only after choosing can they be called "moral."
There's another way people learn. Set up a situation wherein it's hard or impossible to get rewards by being altruistic or responsible. Let the role models gain their rewards by being selfish, impulsive or ruthless. Sound like prison? Or maybe the harsh world of "reality?" Can you possibly choose how you want your family to be? Can you create people who are better than average?
Human nature is a paradox. We can be generous or we can be selfish. How do we know which one to be at any given time and what is the difference? I think it boils down to how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Do we feel loved and honored? Are we respected? Do we trust the world to come through for us with the things we need? Are we capable and deserving? Can we wait when necessary, knowing we will get ours by the time we really need it? Or do we live in a world of dog-eat-dog, where snatch and grab is the only way to get what we want?
How we answer these questions determines whether we think total freedom is a good thing. If you believe your loved ones are good, why not give them as much freedom as they can handle? Be brave. After all, this is America, land of the free and home of the brave.
Hugh R. Leavell has been a marriage and family therapist in Palm Beach County for 18 years. He offers free seminars on couples communication and conflict management. Call him at (561) 471-0067 or visit his Web site www.oneminutetherapist.com.