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How to make choices without undue pressure from others

Are you denying your freedom when you succumb to group pressures in making decisions for yourself?

Example
Imagine an person who takes a job in an organisation because they believe this will further their career growth. It soon becomes apparent that they are expected to work long hours on a regular basis. On occasions when they leave before the expected late hour, they may feel enormous anxiety – either as a result of others’ disapproval, verbal remarks or internal discomfort.
They find themselves in a dilemma. They could work less hours and learn to live with others’ criticisms. Alternatively, They could conform to the group pressures to work longer hours but feel resentful. In order to accommodate the resultant anxiety, they are most likely to deny they have any choice, instead pointing to the organisational culture or power of the management. However, the resultant cost of denying they have choice is to act, what existential theorists call, Inauthentically – denying our true freedom to act.

The person in the example is subject to the Group Myth – the unquestioned assumption that happiness or ease arises out of conforming to a known or fictitious group of which we are or believe ourselves to be a member. Often the pressure appears to come a presumed collective belief of social norms or mores. On the face of it, the above example leaves the individual without little choice – to not conform means his job prospects could be in jeopardy. However, this and related examples, indicate how the anxiety of non-conforming often results in us denying we have any choice at all when in fact we always have a choice – even if only attitudinally.

Martin Heidegger, the existential philosopher calls this faceless group to which we attribute many of these pressures as the ‘They Self’ which influence our own choices of how to be. The They-Self are not a group of people but a presumed set of values and social conventions which presumably everyone agrees with. He says that we can either collude with the demands of the They-Self i.e. the world of others and our perception of their expectations and social conventions, or heed what he calls the Call of Conscience and become aware of our choice of how to be against the backcloth of our temporal existence.

Self-Reflection Exercise

Think of examples from your own life where you have become subject to the pressures of the They-Self. Write down as much information as possible and try to get in touch with how you deal with your anxiety that arises, either as a result of you colluding with the They-Self or trying to break free of it.

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