W.E. – Consequences of Our Free Will

Through our upbringing and then every so often, most of us have been taught and trained to accept that many of our actions are binding and irreversible. Few are those who have never lost a dear friend over some misunderstanding, miscommunication, or simply as a result of actions that in hindsight that person may have come to regret. Indeed it should be so: If we want to have a free will, and if that free will is to have any real meaning at all, then our deliberate actions must have some real consequences.

Everything I have said until this point reflects conventional thinking, there really isn’t anything new in it. Graciously, not all of our mistakes are irreversible, and sometimes matters can be patched up with an apology or some redeeming act.

Now I’m finally arriving at the gray area that I find to be of interest: Namely, the “irreversible” nature of certain actions are to a large extent the consequence of social convention, not strictly logical.

Black and white

A murder is a straightforward example of an irreversible act. Someone goes to the police station and confesses: “I killed that son-of-a-bitch last night!” Upon further inspection, a body is produced, the poor man did indeed get stabbed 39 times before he bled to death. This action is surely irreversible, no prayer or expression of regret will suffice to get the guy back on his feet. And unless the police officers are on the take, chances are that the confession is irreversible as well. A long married couple had an argument, she lost her temper and maybe overreacted a bit, and now she must face the consequences – et cetera.

If this hot-tempered woman had maybe drunk one less cup of espresso that evening, it is conceivable that she would have stabbed her husband only twice: Once in the left shoulder and once in the chin. Under this scenario, he is admitted to the emergency room, from which he eventually emerges all stitched up, traumatized and unable to smile. The physical scars may eventually heal, but the emotional ones probably never will. How can he have dinner with his wife again and look at her cutting the roast with a knife without thinking: How’s she going to use it afterwards? Is she going to stab me again? Alas, the relationship is most likely destroyed, and this regardless of whether he decided to file a legal complaint against her, whether or not the prosecutor decided to press charges -–et cetera.

But what if she had merely stared at him angrily, looked him in the eye, waived the knife in front of him and said: “You son-of-a-bitch! I want to stab you real bad!” Then driven off for a night out on the town. Coming home all drunk and with lipstick on her face. Most likely, he will suspect that not only did she harbor thoughts of stabbing him, she also went out and found herself another man for the night – alas, this relationship is unlikely to return to normal anytime soon, if ever – et cetera.

Shades of gray

In quite many instances, I would argue, the consequences of our unfortunate actions and decisions really are potentially reversible, as further scrutiny will reveal.

Friendships are a form of social contract, the existence of which requires merely the mutual acceptance of such a bond. Oftentimes, the formation of a friendship involves an explicit declaration of such a desire by one party, then acceptance by the other. At other times, a type of silent agreement is reached quite simply by mutual comfort and trust being built over a period of time.

I would argue that unless something really bad has happened, a broken friendship can quickly be restored by the parties involved. One party may take the blame and offer an apology, which the other party then accepts, and conditions should hopefully be restored to normal – otherwise, one or both parties have not been acting in good faith. The parties may also decide amongst themselves that they both carry part of the blame, and so they split the difference.

In quite many cases, the disagreements that led to the destruction of a friendship is nothing but a pittance. In that case, the parties may agree to treat the matter as a non-event! I mean this quite seriously and literally. If we have a free will, and if a friendship is a social contract among two people based entirely upon that free will, then do we also not have it within our power to decide that certain unfortunate words and actions are to be disregarded altogether?

Friendship Restoration Agreement (sample)

We, the undersigned, hereby agree that certain regrettable events (hereinafter referred to as “the Pittances”) were the consequence of powers beyond our control. Although the Pittances may well have appeared as deliberate words, actions, and decisions at the time they were made, upon further reflection one of us has realized – and the other one now agrees – that these were in fact rendered hastily and/or thoughtlessly, and this to such an extent that similar unfortunate incidents are highly unlikely ever to reoccur.

We, being of sound mind and possessing a free will, hereby declare the Pittances as null-and-void. As a result, our friendship is fully restored to its former condition.

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