A Critical Evaluation of the Statement "I Am Free to be Whatever I Want to be"

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 A Critical Evaluation of the Statement “I Am Free to be Whatever I Want to be

The statement “I am free to be whatever I want to be” is very powerful. It immediately turns the mind to times when, both personally and historically, there has been an ideological struggle to establish freedom of identity in the face of social constraint. This kind of freedom is accepted, virtually without question, as being an existential ‘good’ which should be searched for individually and accommodated socially. In this essay I will contemplate the nature of freedom of identity, both generally and with specific reference to the assertions of the experiential perspective. This will conclude with a recognition of the limits of this freedom and the notion of ‘situated freedom’. From here I will describe some of the constraints on freedom of identity within the three categories of: genetic/biological constraints, the constraints of individual experience, and the constraining effect of social context. In doing this, I will analyze the implications of an ‘unconscious self’ and a ‘distributed self’, and question whether we are forced to accept a duality in the definition of ‘I’. In conclusion I will answer the question of whether ‘I am free to be whatever I want to be’ with an almost definite ‘no’, and reflect upon the human drive towards change and to break boundaries.

Defining ‘freedom’ is not an easy task. It is oxymoronic to place boundaries around a concept of ‘being without boundaries’, and so we can only float some generally accepted correlatives. In relation to freedom of identity the best of these are probably ‘autonomy’, ‘self-determinism’, ‘having choice’, ‘unrestricted’ and ‘unconstrained’. In social psychology these terms are perhaps most associated with the experiential perspective, indicating that this perspective is most likely to advocate the ‘I am free’ statement.

The experiential perspective combines humanistic notions of autonomy with the existential quest for self-definition. Autonomy requires that the person has alternatives to choose from, that they are able to reflect upon those alternatives and commit to one of them. At the level of action, to achieve authenticity they must also take responsibility for their choices and be accountable to others for their actions.

We undoubtedly do define ourselves by our actions but a more interesting aspect of self-definition is our capacity to choose how we perceive ourselves. James (1890) refers to the mind as a “Theatre of simultaneous possibilities” (in Stevens, 1996, p156), and since consciousness involves the ability to selectively attend to those possibilities, our experience of reality is self-determined. This ‘intentionality’ which Kelly (1970) describes as ‘constructive alternativism’ (in Stevens, 1996, p165) extends to how we feel about things especially about ourselves.

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Two problems with this are that we enter the realms of philosophy in deciding whether perception is reality, and that we have to encompass a dual notion of the self which is consensually accepted and individually experienced. Given this, the question of whether ‘I am free to be what I want to be’ also contains the question: am I free to see what I want to see?

I will return to the problems of dual notions of self and freedom later, but before the experiential self becomes too ethereal to be useful, we should recognise that this perspective ...

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