Belief and Freedom to Choose


I am reading an interesting book called the Business of Belief by Tom Asacker.  He talks about (pp. 47-48) the well-known experiments at Yale University where volunteers thought they were administering electric shocks with increased intensity to individuals who could be heard but not seen.  Despite the verbal protests from those being shocked the volunteers were prodded to continue the process by the director of the experiments.  The director issued four instructions in sequence:

“Please go on.”

“The experiment requires that you continue.”

“It’s absolutely essential that you continue.”

“You have no other choice, you must go on.”

Asacker relates that “Despite expressing feelings that it was wrong, 65% of the volunteers inflicted the maximum voltage.  Even when subjects were screaming in agony. . . But something happened at the final prod.  When the experimenter would say, “You have no other choice, you must go on,” no one did.  Not one single volunteer.  They were willing to inflict, and endure, suffering for what they were led to believe was a worthy cause.  But only when they felt they had control.  The minute they were issued an order, they stopped. . .  No one can be forced to believe.  Belief depends upon the freedom to choose.”

This story really resonates with me.  When told I cannot not drink, smoke, overeat, or whatever other addictive behavior, my ability to remain sober or abstinent is not long-lasting – I will relapse.  I have found that knowing I have a choice to either live into the solution or live into the problem, live into recovery or live into my addiction, or quite simply, choose to live versus committing a slow, or not slow suicide,  has led me to long-term recovery, one day at a time.

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