Friday, 6 December 2013

Freedom to Think

One of the things we hold most dear is that we know our own minds. I've read a number of books over the last year that suggest that may not be the case.

A concept raised in one of the online courses I've been doing, is the question of travel, and it's this example I offer you now.

You have been raised in a culture where foreign travel is considered fun and/or educational. It is normal to take holidays abroad, and to learn about other places, other cultures, and so on. As an individual your taste for this may vary. You may not enjoy flying, for example, so you don't travel great distances, or you may be a real homebody. Or you may have great wanderlust and travel at every opportunity. Your personal preference here is not the issue. The opportunity is there, and society agrees it is a valuable thing to do.

Because it's seen as a positive thing, it is offered to schoolchildren, as part of their education, with fun activities included. Holidays are often given as prizes. Anything offered as a prize is something we value greatly. People who can't afford to travel as much as they want to, can watch travel shows on TV, for a taste of the experience. It is considered NORMAL to find this interesting and desirable.

But, if you were to go back in time the only people who travelled were dedicated explorers. They were in search of foreign markets and resources. They were looking for financial benefit. Not fun. Not education. They didn't take holidays. Most people didn't travel for pleasure.

Go back further, say 2000 years, and it was a tiny minority; very few people had any urge to travel. Those who did were unusual. The average person had absolutely no interest in other places, or what other people did. They were different to him, he knew that, and that was all the more reason to avoid them. Their culture and climate were different, he'd heard that and that was why he stayed put. Even invaders didn't go too far. It was NORMAL to not want to travel.

So, what was once a freaky thing to WANT is now a normal thing to WANT.

These days if your ability to travel is compromised it is seen as an obstacle to freedom. Borders that you can't cross for whatever reason, are seen as limiting your freedom. People fight, and risk their lives to be able to travel freely. Their ancestors didn't want to go anywhere.

The question then, is how much of your willingness to travel is encultured, and how much is your real heartfelt desire? I put it to you that you don't know.

I like to think that had I been born many years ago, I'd have been a freaky explorer type. But apart from the fact that as a woman I would probably not have had the opportunity to go anywhere, the chances are that if I had been raised thinking that my own village was the full extent of my world, I may not have wanted to leave it.

This has given me great pause. Just HOW much of what I enjoy and desire are really my own preferences, and how much have I been persuaded to "want" because that's what is seen to be desirable.

I consider myself a freethinker, but this and other examples that have been presented to me have made me ponder.

I currently live in a world virtually free of advertising, due to my patterns of behaviour. Since this began I have noticed a few interesting things.

1. When asked what I want for Christmas etc I have absolutely no idea.

2. When I need to buy something, I find myself researching it carefully and taking a long time to choose.

3. When I do, on rare occasions, see advertisements, I find them REALLY STUPID. And very annoying. Were they always like that? Yes, but I got used to it.

4. Possibly the most interesting one of all. When I am out shopping (which is not frequent) I often see things that are new to me (but presumably not to others) and therefore interesting. But my impulse purchases have REDUCED. You'd expect them to increase, but no. My entire "desire to acquire" has lessened.

This has been especially noticable when selling at craft shows. There was a time when I would buy from other stallholders. Now I don't even look. I don't enter the building needing anything, and the impulse to browse has gone.

Advertising is powerful. It makes you think you want things, that you had no idea you wanted. 

That is its purpose. That's the whole idea. It's very clever.

Of course, as a person who sells things for a living, I take full advantage of this. I see how it works. I know how to tempt people.

There are times of course that one is grateful to have discovered something. Just yesterday I discovered a site that will turn your artwork into fabric and wallpaper. I squeed all over this like a child in a toy shop. However, just a few weeks ago I was saying how fantastic it would be if such a thing existed, so my finding it supplied a need that already existed.

Would I have been as excited if I'd not been looking for something like that? I don't know. I honestly don't know.

This requires a LOT of honesty. It's extremely difficult to accept that we don't know our own minds, and generally, when I suggest the possibility, people fight the idea. Often they dismiss it without a second thought, and don't examine the possibility.

It seems ridiculous that we could possibly fall for such a thing, but it is reality. Much of what we consider to be normal, is simply familiar. The next step is deciding that we like it that way.

Are our thoughts free?


  1. The tide is turning. People like you and me are merely a bit ahead of the curve. We are starting to see a fresh appreciation for the simple life, for the freedom to stay, root, and create community. Ideas are literally in the air. Have you noticed how often we ponder and reflect and come up with an idea, only to hear about it as a new trend a bit later? I did a thing on travel a while back.

  2. appreciation OF. It won't let me edit.