Choice equals freedom. Is it?

1069899_307957772674293_1008150004_nSimilar to numerous people in the world in the path to adulthood, basic psychology questions are striking me hard. Cliche but classic, everyone at a certain moment of life would feel a strong urge to dig deeper, solve the questions themselves and live their lives in accordance with appropriate values after careful reflection. If not, those questions will just linger in mind and let us be in a paralyzing state.

Yes I can just go to Youtube and listen to what professor Michael Sandel talks, but it is probably not enough despite being enlightening. Coming from various backgrounds with different unique culture roots and upbringings, it’s hard to set a universal “right things to do” guidelines for us all, even in an era of globalization. Maybe someday we will, but not there yet, at least not now.

As a 24-year-old coming from Vietnam who proactively expose herself to Western culture, very often I find myself stuck in the dilemma of freedom and selfishness. Started to make the first rebellious move 2 years ago, I drown myself in an endless string of escapes. I choose a job which lets me do that even easier. Talking with travelers coming from all around the world, I deeply believed that this so-called freedom is exactly what I am looking for.

It’s time to forget outdated traditional values and move on with the new me, my real self

So often did I tell myself so. Yet, I was a different “self” when I was traveling and back to the “old self” upon returning home.

On one side, I pride myself for daring to let go and live with my passion

On the side, I was eaten up by increasing guilt for abandoning an integral part of what makes me who I am

To you this maybe no big deal, if by any case you come from a North American country where individualism is taken for granted

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“Does choice equal freedom and well-being”, Swarthmore college

But not in Vietnam in this particular time. Coming from a rural village in central Vietnam, for 18 years I had no separate room. I was happy to do the things my beloved people tell me to do. Fair enough, since they don’t get out of that frame to compare either.

I didn’t have much choice back then

But now facing with lots of choices to do whatever I want, I was torn between me pursuing my own interests and me fulfilling my responsibility as a person.

Is there a way to have both or there must be a trade-off? Do we have choice over this?

Is making one choice being selfish and fall for the other being lack of responsibility for our own destiny?

The dilemma lies within itself: we are born as social animals and heavily dependent on other people, yet over the course of self-awareness consider individualism as a top-notch desirable.

Running to another place, no matter how new and exotic it is doesn’t cut our bonds and sets us free from intrinsic concerns and relationships.


To solve this question, acclaimed names such as Dalai Latma and Stephen Covey (author of “7 habits of highly effective people”) focuses on the interdependent term:

“Consider the following. We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others”

What does this tell us? Firstly, because our every action has a universal dimension, a potential impact on others’ happiness, ethics are necessary as a means to ensure that we do not harm others. Secondly, it tells us that genuine happiness consists in those spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance and forgiveness and so on. For it is these which provide both for our happiness and others’ happiness.

(extracts from Dalai Latma)

For so long I ignorantly considered monks as people who escape from real world and abandoning their problems. “Who are they to preach us anyway?”, I told myself. Yet I can’t say Dalai Latma’s words are redundant. Actually being intertwined within others is not a matter of choice. We are born that way and will forever be, whether we like it or not.

Living interdependently to satisfy both individualism and social bonds will remain a question waiting to be solved.


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