Victor MacGill Chaos and Complexity
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When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, Myths and Legends

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Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

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My first book..

When the Dragon Stirs

Healing our Wounded Lives through Fairy Stories, myths and Legends

When the Dragon Stirs Book Cover

The Dragon

Line

My next book...
Gonna Lay Down my Sword
and Shield

A Complexity Perspective on Human Evolution from our Violent Past to a Compassionate Future

Mandelbrot Set

Articles by Victor

Mandelbrot Set   Fairy Stories
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Mandelbrot Set  Complexity
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Mandelbrot Set  Spirituality
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Short previews
of all talks

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Personal Responsibility

A talk given at the Dunedin Spiritualist Church in June 2005

Tonight I am talking about personal responsibility. I need to say that my talk is a personal opinion and may not coincide with the beliefs of Spiritualism, but I do think nevertheless that I am asking relevant questions for us all to think about.

Here is a list of ideas that most of us here would probably hold to be core beliefs.
  • Nothing happens by accident
  •  Everything is happening as it is meant to
  •  We are responsible for everything that happens in our lives
  • Positive thoughts cause positive consequences, negative thoughts cause negative consequences
  • The world is a good and fair place and we would know everything works out for the best if only we knew the bigger picture.

This gives us a picture of life that allows us to feel good about life when times get tough. We know that no matter what happens, there is a bigger picture that would make sense of everything. It also says that if we could just learn to be more positive, we would be able to sort out all our problems. It gives a sense of meaning and purpose to life.

But how do we know these ideas are actually true? Often the ideas we hold closest are ideas we test and examine the least, because to challenge our core beliefs is to challenge the very essence of who we are. But, it is only by challenging who we think we are, that we can come to know who we really are.
 
Let’s start by looking at freewill. Freewill is our ability to make up our own minds and do what we feel is the right thing. We gain power by using our freewill to make decisions, which gives direction to our lives. Freewill is important because without it we are just robots following a set of rules or like a computer just following a computer program. Any system of beliefs that does not maintain our freewill cannot be an adequate explanation of life.

In order to have free will, we must be able to make a wrong decision, because if we can only make the right decision every time, we do not the have the freedom to chose. In fact, if you think about, there is no such thing as freewill unless we can choose evil, and the more the evil, the more the choice. That’s not to say we should choose evil of course, but it must appear to us as a real alternative in our lives to retain our freewill.

If we could always accurately judge the outcome of our actions, we would always choose the best option. Again we would then have lost our free will and our power. It is only when we cannot be sure how things might turn out that we can have the power to be free. Why would we bother to strive for our goals if we knew there was no real risk of failure. It is the real risk that things might not turn out right that drives us on to truly understand ourselves and the world we live in.

If everything has to happen exactly as it is meant to, if everything has to fit God’s plan or the universe’s plan, when do we get to choose for ourselves? So, if we really get to choose, then we can’t be as confident about how things will turn out. We can’t be free until we have chaos in our lives. We need accidents; things that happen unpredictably, that even God could not predict, if we are to have free will. Gurdjieff was on to something when he talked of the known, the unknown, and the unknowable.

If I am 100% responsible for everything in my life and you are a part of my life, then I am 100% responsible for your life as well as you being 100% responsible for your life. That doesn’t make sense. It says no matter what other people do, I am still responsible. Other people just become puppets in my drama of life. If you have free will, you can make choices over which I have no control, so how can I still be 100% responsible when I don’t have 100% control.

How can we say to someone who has been raped, violently attacked, got cancer, leukaemia, born disabled or whatever, that it is their fault. How can we say they must have had wrong thoughts, attitudes or actions that led to them being where they are. It’s just making them victims all over again and is unhelpful. The line, "well, it must have been in a past life" is just too convenient an answer when there is no obvious "sin" that has been committed.

We might say that we make a decision on a spiritual level to undertake hardships because we know he suffering is good for us in the long run. But, if our spiritual self, which sees the bigger picture, makes the decision, then our human self does not have free will to decide. We have to make human decisions on a human level. If our human self can link to our spiritual self, then the human self can have access to the spiritual wisdom to help decide. All too often, however, that doesn’t happen. So often we decide from our human self, making decisions our spiritual self would not agree with. Then we have to cope with the consequences of our human decision. We cannot control life from our spiritual self and maintain free will, it must be through our human self.

We humans are clearly evolving to become increasingly complex beings. We can ponder our existence in ways no other creatures on earth can. Based on what we have evolved from, surely our future potential is virtually limitless, if not actually limitless, provided of course, that we do not annihilate ourselves on the way.

In many ways it is true that we are only limited by what our mind can conceive, and the spiritual wisdom awaiting us is beyond anything we can even dare to imagine. Teilhard de Chardin wrote about an Omega Point; a point of spiritual perfection we are all evolving towards. It is the point where we become one with God. I am not so sure that such a point exists, because again, having free will means being to able choose something other than what has been predetermined. If creation is an ongoing process, as I believe it is, then the end point has yet to be defined. We can only know it when we get there, if we in fact do.

Being positive about our life makes a real difference to the outcomes in our lives. A positive orientation to situations increases motivation and commitment. I even believe that a positive attitude can align ourselves with a universal flow so things just seem to fall into place, connections just magically happen, taking us on to higher levels of consciousness and solve our problems in ways we could never imagine.
 
That does not necessarily mean, however, that bad things can’t happen to good people and good things can’t happen to bad people. In fact, if the future is ultimately unpredictable, which it must be if we have freewill, then being totally positive cannot guarantee a positive future. Surely it is better to be able to see the world as it actually is, rather than only focusing on the positive

So, where do we go from here? How can we make sense of all these contradictions?

A good starting point is the word “responsibility”. It can have subtly different meanings that can cause confusion.

One meaning of the word responsibility is “to cause something to be”. For example, I was responsible for spilling the milk. I caused it by my actions.

But, the second meaning is “Having a duty”. I am responsible for bringing the milk in every night. I am the person who has to do it.

Now when we say we are 100% responsible for everything that happens in our lives we can be saying two different things.

We could be saying, “Everything that happens in my life is caused by me”. Nothing anyone else does is a part of the cause of events in my life.” There are problems when we use the word “responsible” in this way.

The second meaning of responsibility says, maybe I am not 100% the cause of everything in my life, but nevertheless, I have a duty to deal with everything that happens to me.

I have a small sailing boat in the boatshed at Broad Bay. When I go out sailing, I cannot control the wind and the weather, the currents or tides, the rocks and seaweed, or other boats nearby. In fact I have control over very little. I can move the tiller 20cm one way or the other, pull in or let out a rope a metre or two, lift the centre board a few centimetres, and shift my weight around in the boat. That’s not much when you consider the power of the elements I am sailing in. Yet, I still manage to go where I want. Sometimes I have to tack back and forth and go a very long way about, sometimes I might need to shelter for the winds to die down, but I can virtually always get where I want to go in spite of the very low level of direct control I can.

It is the same in life. We do not have to be in control of everything to get where we want. I believe we can often justifiably say that others have caused our problems, but that way of looking at things will never solve the problem. The situation only changes when we accept responsibility for our lives. To take responsibility for our lives is to embark on a difficult but magical pathway towards realising who we truly are and attaining our goals in life.

This takes away the guilt of being a victim. We do not have to automatically assume that we created every situation, That is not to say that we do not cause many of our own problems and create problems for other people, and, of course, we often do so in far more subtle ways than we might imagine.

Seeing this way does make it easier to fall into the trap of blaming others rather than accepting responsibility for our lives. It is justified to take responsibility for our lives by making others aware of how their actions have caused problems for you, but not in blaming them. That’s not easy to get the difference right. It also makes it easier to deny that we have caused situations.

To sum up then, another way of looking at the world says:

The universe is ultimately unpredictable. Accidents and catastrophes do happen. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

Things happen that we did not cause and we could not have predicted and being positive will not always make everything all right.

In spite of all this, we can take responsibility for our lives and the situations we find ourselves in. We then embark on a dangerous journey to discover ourselves and explore our inner depths.

This reflects is a harder world to live in. It is not certain, it does not necessarily promise that everything will be all right. It does, however still say we can find meaning and purpose in living a good life; that we can find power in the right use of our free will that opens us to be able to fulfil our roles as co-creators in the dance that is the universe in which we live.

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