My commute between home and work is about 20 minutes. Google Maps says it’s around 30 but I’m able to cut it short. During this time I often listen to podcasts, occasionally make a few calls, listen to some songs, or catch up on news and try to reduce the clutter of previously ignored notifications that seems to be omnipresent at the top bar of my phone. On a recent evening, walking home, I decided to let my ears rest for once and I put my headphones away. I was then only listening to the snow slowly falling down, melting as it gently touched the ground, its quietness almost overwhelming.
That is when I came up with quite an interesting thought. As I often find my mind wondering about its own seemingly independent agenda, here is what I came across: “What if we could chemically change our feelings? How would we choose to feel? If I now want X, but I know X is bad, would I want myself to not want it anymore or wouldn’t I, since I still want X?”
The more I thought about it and the more of a dilemma it appeared. Here is an example in action. Say that you like candy, and I’m choosing candy because I think we can all agree that it’s not what a healthy 21st-century society would consider healthy. You know it’s bad for you and you are always told to stop eating it, yet you like it. As a consequence you want it, you seek it, you become happy when you get it. You know it’s bad for you, but you seem to be able to ignore the wise angel on your right shoulder and only listen to the little devil on the left. What if you now suddenly have the chance to be able to not feel the physical desire to have candy? What if you can simply not want to want candy anymore and therefore your body as a response to your brain’s input would actually stop making you feel like you want it? Do you then want the candy, or do you not want it?
Talking about candy seems like an easy concept with little impact, although what if we introduce a more serious topic such as sexual orientation? You may feel a certain way towards a specific gender, X, a way that society labels as “wrong”. Even if publicly accepted, you know deep down that people look at you sideways and are always judging you for the way that you dress and behave, and you feel wrongly accused of an act you didn’t mean to commit. You wish you wouldn’t have to be this way because it’s the way you are, yet at the same time you have thought of the possibility of perhaps not having to feel the way that you feel towards X. Then, do you really want X, or do you want to not want X?
How about religion? You are part of a group, X, that has specific beliefs and rules to follow. Your group is not always welcomed nor accepted. You like to be part of the group, you enjoy the culture and the rituals and you believe in the religion that is being brought forward. Yet you feel like if only you didn’t want to be part of that group, you wouldn’t have to go through the pain of rejection and humiliation. Then, do you really want X, or do you want to not want X?
You like a car, X. The vehicle is fast, powerful, it gives you thrills every time you ride in it, yet it’s bad for the environment due to the high carbon emissions. You feel like you should be able to stop liking the car because it is considered “bad”, yet it’s so hard for you to just change your mind. Then, do you really want X, or do you want to not want X?
I think by now you get the point I’m trying to convey. Can we, as humans with our fully-equipped, almighty brains, change the way we feel towards certain aspects of our life? How does our will work in these cases? Can we even want X and want to not want X at the same time? Does that even make sense? Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to all the questions I’m posing. My goal is to merely bring up a contradiction that people may feel in their everyday life, with the objective of hopefully trying to make more sense of it.
I often feel that thoughts like this make me realize the complexity of our own minds, of aspects that most of the times are overlooked and not even considered. This is why these sorts of dilemmas are important to ask to be able to understand a little better who we really are. In the case of willpower over any one specific thing, it may seem easy to know where the right path will head towards, but is the right path what we really want? Do we want to conduct the right life, one in which we make all the right choices, or do we want to conduct a life in which we do what makes us happy? Can we always find a compromise? I believe that if anyone really wants to change the way that they feel about X, then they certainly can as willpower can lead to incredible results; although that still doesn’t answer the recurring question: do we really want X, or do we want to not want X?
Thank you for reading this article, I hope it has made you think about something you find interesting about the way we as humans think. Follow me if you liked it and if you want to read more about other engaging thoughts.
You can also find me on YouTube, Flickr, 500px as Claudio Lener and on Instagram as claus_pics.
P.S. I don’t actually know where the angel and devil sit on your shoulders, I think it varies from person to person…