“Freedom is just Chaos, with better lighting.” — Alan Dean Foster
Humans, especially those of us living in western societies, relish freedom and often promote it as an unalloyed good in and of itself. As such, we neglect both the costs and benefits it entails.
On the up side, freedom affords us choice. At the same time, all these choices can make deciding more difficult. Overly simplistic notions of freedom and the associated concept of free, which appeal to reason and rely on rationality (often under the guise of ‘commonsense’), may explain, in part, why so many people find so much discontentment in life.
The complexity arising from the bewildering array of choices we face often presents itself as chaos. Disorder, disorganization, and discontinuity impede discernment. Not only does the mass of facts and opinions before us make it difficult to see patterns, it also encourages us to associate confusion, frustration, anxiety, and sometimes anger with situations that defy concise orderly descriptions.
Under these circumstances, we have little real choice. We invariably find it necessary to simplify the process by limiting the scope of of our inquiries or deliberations. All this emphasis on process, though, can distract us from the real value and purpose of deciding.
In such situations, leaders often find themselves tempted — and sometimes expected — to simplify choices by restricting others’ freedom or exercising their own free choice to intervene on others’ behalf. Although these approaches often seem appealing because they relieve people of powerful negative emotions, they also effectively marginalize if not eliminate opportunities for anyone besides the leader to learn and grow from the experience.
The chaos of choice and the indecision that often accompanies it present leaders with the ideal opportunity to illuminate decision-making processes by highlighting important values rather than relying on rationality alone. It is in these situations, the ones in which no clearly better or best alternative exists, that appeals to reason and commonsense fail. Leaders can add value under such circumstances by shining a moral light into the darkness that inhabits the spaces between rocks and hard places.
Learning to live with freedom requires us to accept complexity even if we cannot find it within ourselves to embrace chaos. Avoiding indecision and negative emotions requires little more than moral courage, and a willingness to learn from the choices we make, whether they turn out for better or worse.