Saturday, August 11, 2018

Unfree Will and CBT

My wife sent me to the store this morning for a cucumber. She needed it for a dish she cooked for the Thai temple.

When I got to the checkout counter, there was a young guy ahead of me with a basket full of groceries. He looked at me and my single cucumber but went ahead and checked out first.

If I had been the one with the basket full of groceries and he had been the one with the single cucumber, I would have let him go ahead of me. I always do. And most people do the same with me. But this guy was not me or most people. At least not this morning.

I confess that I felt some resentment. And I'm pretty sure I could have silently talked myself into more of it. But I didn't want to do this. So, I did the opposite.

People with whom I discuss my belief in unfree will often ask me what good could come of such a belief. Today's incident is one place where my nonbelief in free will can be beneficial. When people do things we don't like but we don't think they could have done otherwise given their nature and circumstances, it's hard to feel or stay angry with them.

And if we subscribe to the principles of CBT or REBT, it's hard to feel or stay angry with someone who does things we don't like even if we believe they freely chose to do it. Why? Because it can be reasonably argued that most things people do that we don't like don't violate any demonstrable divine edict or societal or natural law.

Theists and some philosophers might disagree, but I'm neither a theist nor philosopher who believes in divine edicts or natural law. So, when people do things I don't like, in most cases I tell myself something such as: "I don't like the fact that this person did this, but there was no divine or natural law I know of that said they MUST or SHOULD do it, and so it's an inconvenience but not an awful or terrible thing that I have good reason to upset myself over." And when I do this, I generally don't feel angry with someone or hold on to anger I'm already feeling.

Unfree will and CBT are potent antidotes to needless emotional upset when I have the self-discipline to exercise them skillfully. May I continue to exercise and refine my ability to do this.

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