December 5, 2002 11:46 PM

It's probably impossible to know how much control we each really have over our thoughts and actions. How much we're influenced by all the things around us.

I like to think it's all about free will.


I find myself thinking other people are the product of their environment. And to try to forgive them their annoying characteristics as something they can't control.

For instance, I know a woman who is somewhat whiny and also fat. I wonder if she's whiny in part because she's experiencing the world as a fat person. Her tendency to tell me too much about when and what she eats, to mock herself, these could be things she does because that's what fat people are supposed to do.

This isn't fair of me. It's almost as if I presume she has less control over her response to life just because she's fat. Would I think the same thing if she were a thin woman? I suspect I'd just think she was whiny and tended to over-disclose. Or, worse, I'd assume that her fixation on food was directed at me. I know for sure I wouldn't think the same if it were I acting that way; I'd skewer myself, stew over it, and do many other cannibalistic-sounding things. I would not forgive and chock it all up to some form of gentle oppression; ideas like The Media [o, great singular conglomerate] would not enter the picture - it would be all about me.

If we could all just say, to hell with it, wouldn't that be better? Wouldn't it be easier to just drop activism and live our lives? That is, if we just did whatever we did, accepted it as free will, and therefore automatically rejected stereotypes, oppression, all those little social inequities.

The problem is that thought sometimes has to be consciously changed. We follow a pattern of automatic thoughts for so long, and they don't just change like that. No *poof*.

On the surface, social activism can seem like bizarre thought regulation - it's okay to say cunt, maybe, but not to say girl. It sounds like just rules for what you can and cannot think, when it's really about awareness. If that awareness makes you unwilling to say and think and do certain things, it might be good for you, but you don't get to awareness by following rules about what you can and can't do.

I forget that sometimes. I don't want to hear things from other people that offend me, and it's easier to command don't say that than to impart awareness.

Because. People are influenced, to whatever extent, by conventional wisdom. We all carry with us a handful (or more) of stereotypes and other automatic assumptions of what we and others are and do. Only awareness changes that.

Ironically, as I was babbling on about my own internal locus of control and my personal quandary of free will versus -ism, Dorothea was saying much the same thing. Must be something in the wires.

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