We believe that we’re living in a free society with infinite choice and a large measure of control over our existence. But despite all of our rights, privileges, and opportunities, most of us are probably not as free or empowered as we could be.
Our notion of freedom is somewhat naïve, given that in many ways, we remain ignorant, misinformed and gullible. Corporations, politicians, institutions and dishonest individuals take advantage of our tendency toward passivity, denial, and lazy thinking. Many of us are lied to, cheated, manipulated, and exploited more often than we realize.
Too many of us have become emotionally ignorant and apathetic, and in doing so we’ve inadvertently given up our autonomy.
We’ll need to change the way we operate if we no longer want greedy or corrupt people and institutions to have undue influence over our lives. Fortunately, we can develop specific psychological skills as easily as we become physically fit, but with even greater benefits.
In order to have more freedom and empowerment in our lives we need conscious awareness, healthy skepticism, emotional intelligence and ruthless compassion. The more we practice these skills, the less we’ll be subject to manipulation and exploitation and the more unencumbered we’ll be in pursuing true happiness and fulfillment.
- Conscious awareness.Too many of us are going through life with our eyes closed, allowing others to appropriate our power. Whether we’re willfully ignorant of something, anxiously avoiding something, or stubbornly denying something, being unaware effectively renders us helpless in affecting our own destiny.We think that we’re making up our own minds when we’re choosing how to spend our money, who to vote for, who to marry or how to raise our children, but if we’re not conscious and aware, we’re actually letting others decide these things for us.
Ignorance and avoidance are disempowering, and denial is a prison from which we have no possibility of free choice. The only way to be in charge of our own existence is to see the truth for what it is. This enables us to access our real feelings, clarify our wants and needs and make fully informed choices.
- Healthy skepticism.Many of us live our lives without really questioning anything. We accept what we’re told and place an unwarranted amount of trust in our teachers, clergy, politicians and other leaders. Even when some of these people are revealed to be dishonest, corrupt, immoral or hypocritical, we continue to let them tell us how to live.This is very dangerous, as we end up trusting those who speak most convincingly, rather than those who have our best interests at heart. When we choose not to question those in positions of authority; when we justify or rationalize their behavior, we let them carry on doing whatever they want to do and we’re stuck with the consequences.
If, on the other hand, we question our corporations and our leaders, we’ll quickly discover their true nature. Those with good character and good intentions will welcome our challenge, as true leaders and honest institutions have nothing to hide.
False leaders and dishonest companies will reveal themselves through their defensiveness, arrogance or aggressiveness in the face of our skepticism. They might threaten us, call us names or attempt to twist our words against us.
Our skepticism will bring out the best in the upstanding people and institutions and will bring out the worst in those that are dishonest and corrupt. By asking questions and observing the reactions and responses of those we’re questioning, we’re able to discover who we’re really dealing with and make informed choices with respect to them.
To question things is to take back control of our lives, because knowledge and understanding bring us power and choice and enable us to act on our own behalf in the best, most informed manner. Not accepting everything at face value and being skeptical about the underlying motivations of those who want to lead us, advise us or profit from us is a wise course of action for all the above reasons.
- Emotional intelligence.It’s not enough to be intelligent. We also need emotional smarts. This means understanding that people are driven by underlying motivations which might be unclear to us, but which we need to discover. Knowing what drives an individual or an institution enables us to respond to them in a far more empowered manner.Emotional intelligence also involves the ability to understand and influence others. If we’re unintelligent emotionally, we’re vulnerable to being overly influenced by those who are more adept at this than we are, whereas if we have this skill, we can turn others to our way of thinking and do some good in the world.
Developing emotional intelligence empowers us to identify the honest, decent people in our lives and enables us to discern the charming manipulators from the truly kind and caring. It makes it possible to see through the shiny facade of the liars and con artists among us and to avoid being taken in by their ploys.
Most of all, emotional intelligence enables us to access our authentic nature and clarify what we want in life. It prevents us from being misled by any of our own false beliefs and fears and focuses us on our priorities. With emotional intelligence, no one can tell us who we are, what we should want or how we should live.
- Ruthless compassion. When we take responsibility for ourselves and our lives, it’s a lot harder for others to deceive, exploit or control us. Facing the truth about ourselves, others and the world around us makes us more empowered. Both of these are easier if they’re done with loving-kindness.If seeing the truth about ourselves is accompanied by harsh self-criticism, it can lead to avoidance. Personal responsibility can be burdensome if it’s associated with perfectionism, and without compassion, seeing the truth about others and the world could lead to cynicism or despair.
Ruthless compassion is a philosophy of empowered yet loving truthfulness with oneself and others. When honesty and responsibility are combined with compassion, we can more easily see things for what they are and make better choices in our lives.
With these four psychological skills, we’re at a great advantage over the average person. Not only will we be less subject to the predation of unscrupulous individuals and institutions, but we’ll be able to create the life that best suits our genuine wants and needs.