I want to talk to you now about freedom and responsibility.
As you get older you will face one of the toughest challenges we all face in life. And that is to understand how much living should be about ourselves as individuals and how much it should be about others, whether that’s family, friends or society.
There will always be an element of loneliness and individualism in life. After all, no-one else will experience life quite the way you do, nor will they live through the same experiences from birth to death.
In this sense, life can be viewed rather like a train journey. We are a passenger that gets on at one station and off at another. And so, our fellow passengers won’t experience the journey in the same way, although they will be present for part of it.
As far as we know, we only get one go at life. So, we must live it as we see fit. However, from the moment we are born, we are confronted by people who want to tell us how to live.
When we are very small and powerless, our desire to do things is confronted by our inability to do so. We therefore start out on lif with other people controlling the way we live. From what we eat to when we sleep, we are utterly dependent on others. As we grow older, we begin to understand that certain things are expected of us and try to do them.
It’s also apparent from the start that we have a mind of our won. And while we may not be able to do what we want yet, we have our own strong opinion on how and what we should do. This tension between our own wishes and those of others is a defining quality of life.
You experienced this when we took you to playschool for the first time. On the first day, your mother took you to this new place and left you there with strangers. Understandably, you were immediately horrified and cried for your mother. Eventually, you realised that she had gone, and you had no choice but to settle down and make the best of it. So that’s what you did. But the next time your mother got you ready for play school you cried and screamed again.
Of course, we were both upset to see you so upset but we decided to make you go to play school because it will get you walking and talking more quickly. We believe we’re doing the best thing for you, while you disagree.
As time passes and you grow up, the balance of power in our relationship will change. It will move in your favour, and our ability to tell you what to do will diminish as your ability to choose your own path increases.
This will be very liberating for you, and at the same time will complicate your life much more. You will need to work out for yourself which option to take, which decision to make and why path you follow. While some say our lives are governed by predestination, I believe you have just as much of a role as fate in determining your personal destiny.
Your choices in life are yours to make. Think of life as your own personal ship and never forget you are its captain. Too often in life, people become frustrated with their circumstances without making changes. This is a great mistake and one I want you to avoid. You can’t change everything in your life. For example, you can’t swap your parents even if you wanted to (thank God!), or make yourself taller, younger or older. These are life’s immoveable parts that come along with your personal destiny.
Learn to accept these pieces that can’t be changed and come to terms with them in the deepest and most positive way you can. If you cannot change something there is no point expending energy lamenting it. This is one of the biggest wastelands in people’s lives — that they get upset about things they cannot change.
This is all the sadder, as there is nothing in life that is fundamentally good or bad other than things like good health. So, what we learn to perceive as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ is formed entirely with our own perception of the world. Here’s an example from my own life.
I was my parents’ first child. Just when they were thinking about having more children their lives were turned upside down by a revolution. The children never came and I was an only child. For the first 15 years or so of my life this didn’t even come into my mind. But from a certain age it grew into a big deal in my mind. Every time I saw people with siblings, I would feel empty and feel that life was very unfair. Instead of thinking about everything else I could have done in my life, I felt sorry for myself and dwelt on this.
And the more I thought about it, the more upset I became. All of this anguish served absolutely no purpose other than to make me feel truly miserable. Gradually, I began to spend more time thinking about the things in life that make me happy. Like the fact that I’m married to your mother, whom I love. The fact that you are my daughter, which I consider a personal gift from God. The fact that I have wonderful friends and that I enjoy what I do.
It’s not that thinking about these good things in my life solved the problem of having no siblings. But it meant that I began to expend energy on what I do have in my life until it superseded what I don’t have.
There will always be certain things we have and don’t have in life. In my case, I have a wife and daughter but no brothers or sisters. Others have siblings but never get married or have children. Some have all of this but suffer from ill health. The point is, no-one is given everything, and we all have some things we love and some things we don’t. It’s up to us — and only us — whether we choose to celebrate our blessings or mourn what we don’t have. Choose carefully as this could inform the rest of your life. We’ll talk more in the next chapter about the choices you will need to make and how to choose well.