Monday, November 05, 2007

Foolish Freedom

As part of MentorCoach program ( one of the suggested reading materials is book Changing for Good. James O. Prochaska and fellows Norcross and Diclemente have presented a revolutionary six-stage program for overcoming bad habits and moving your life positively forward. I am amazed with the simplicity of the stages (precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, termination, maintenance) and how they apply to any issue - especially useful for dealing with addictions.

I am fascinated with a term foolish vs responsible freedom mentioned in the book.
First of all here is what Webster dictionary claims for freedom:


1. the state of being free from the control or power of another
autonomy, independence, liberty, self-government,
Related Words emancipation, enfranchisement, liberation, manumission, release
Antonyms dependence, subjection

the right to act or move freely
Synonyms authorization, free hand, latitude, license (or licence), run
Related Words
authority, mandate, power; rang
e, room, space

Although there is no adequate theory of personal freedom (yet) the presentation of foolish freedom in Apendix A caught my eye and I have been thinking a lot about it these days. First of all two experiments initiated the use of terminology 'foolish freedom': Calhoun studied wild mice and in his experiments he provided switches in the cages where wild mice were. In first experiment wild mice had an option between choosing the switch that gives
  1. bright light
  2. dim light or
  3. no light

Sensitive to light, wild mice would
each time choose dim light unless that was the choice experimenter made earlier. In that case wild mice would rebelliously go for either of other two options.

The second experiment also included a switch, this time the one that turns the wheel on (the only form of exercise wild mice had). Smart as they are (otherwise why bother with mice anyway) they quickly learned to turn the wheel on so they could happily run and supplement for the daily exercise unless experimenter turned the switch on first. Guess! In that case they would turn it off. And that is what foolish freedom is about.

In both of these experiments mice wanted the control over the outcome, they wanted to master the machine rather than being governed by the experimenter. As a parallel Prochaska mentions a story about Maria who had a tyrannical father who demanded to know every single detail of Maria's life, he was involved in choosing everything for her (clothes, friends, college). Maria got married later and at the age of 33 realized that she was controlling her husband in the same way - she chose what they ate, where they went, what they did. Freedom at any cost just for the sake of living it.

On the other side of the spectrum is responsible freedom - when you choose to change for the best of reasons, regardless of what you were conditioned to do, what you feel compelled to do, or what is most immediately gratifying to do.

Have you ever felt like a wild mice dealing with problems at your work or in private life?
Have you ever lived like in a cage surrounded with wild mice?
How can you take more responsibility for your personal freedom?

Buffaloes in Belgrade Zoo
Is Madagascar billboard triggering foolish freedom effect?
Copyright Dalida Turkovic 2005

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