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Do We Have Free Will?


Neon Genesis
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To answer the question of free will we must first have a complete understanding of all forms of causation. Do we have a complete understanding of all forms of causation? No, we do not.

 

Myron

 

This is very true. 'Material efficient causation' (mechanical cause and effect) is the only form of causation accounted for by science at present. Intentionality is has no objective model. Intentionality covers experience, emotion, and thought. If material efficient causes were the only causes (as materialism necessitates) then neither emotions nor logic have ever factored into an organisms decisions or behavior. In other words, no one ever did anything in order to avoid pain, or no one ever made a rational decision (for instance, a good argument never caused anyone to think differently).

 

Peace,

Mike

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Neon G. and friends,

 

Deeper consideration of the significant question,

 

"Do you believe we have free will or is everything determined and what sort of implications do you think determinism has for morality and God if it's proven we don't have free will?"

looks like a challenge for all of us, which might bring expanded understanding and fruitful appreciation of God’s gifts conferring relative free will.

 

My sense (along with Mike’s, perhaps) is that our subjective personality/soul of survival potential is inherently free to choose God’s will or not. Thus, the fetters of antecedent causation are not spiritually determinative.

 

Imo, keeping the "mind-body problem" (matter/mind/soul/spirit) segregated from "free-will vs determinism" will only result in over-simplification and lead to error.

 

A Dios,

Brent

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Thanks for sharing Brent. I would agree that free will cannot actually be separated from the "mind/body problem".

 

With regard to the original question Neongenesis posed, as to the implications that determinism would have on morality, this is an important question. If a 'strong determinism' were true, we would certainly have to revise a lot of our ethical theory, removing the idea of 'agent' from the action. I don't think we would need to abandon all moral categories, we could still value subjectivity, we could still acknowledge good and evil, but we'd have to do so in terms of selflessness.

 

In a way selflessness can be considered a characteristic of subjectivity anyway, after all, we don't 'have' a mind, we 'are' a mind. But I'm not convinced of a 'strong determinism' anyway.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Greetings friends,

 

Just continuing with a few thoughts on determinism...

 

Mike wrote:

If a 'strong determinism' were true, we would certainly have to revise a lot of our ethical theory, removing the idea of 'agent' from the action. I don't think we would need to abandon all moral categories, we could still value subjectivity, we could still acknowledge good and evil, but we'd have to do so in terms of selflessness.

 

In a way selflessness can be considered a characteristic of subjectivity anyway, after all, we don't 'have' a mind, we 'are' a mind. But I'm not convinced of a 'strong determinism' anyway.

 

I acknowledge good (God’s will) in terms of selflessness -- if regarded as sublime self-forgetfulness, unselfishness, and “enhanced self-realization in conjoined social service and universe comprehension” (UP 180:5:12). Can some other sense of selflessness be actually manifest?

 

If not, then I don't see how a concept of (unmanifested) selflessness can be truly considered a characteristic of subjectivity (or anything else, for that matter :huh: ). Actual evil (action based on mistaken judgment) or sin (deliberate and conscious evil-choosing) would imply an agent, or so it seems to me.

 

Imo, a ‘strong determinism’ which removes the idea of ‘agent’ from morality and ethics is erroneous. Of course, I'm slow - but open to correction ;)

 

A Dios,

Brent

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Brother Mike and friends,

 

Looking for a better grasp of your viewpoint, I wonder if you would 'mind' expanding on your thoughts, as worded:

 

"In a way selflessness can be considered a characteristic of subjectivity anyway, after all, we don't 'have' a mind, we 'are' a mind."

 

I’ve been taught that a limited portion of the cosmic or infinite mind is available to our finite material mind circuits, and that material/mindal/soulful and spiritually progressive (potentially eternal) selfhood develops with personality unification through the voluntary consecration of our relative free wills to the will of God.

 

Further, I've heard that God's will (the kingdom of heaven) is discernible by personality selfhood due to the presence of absolute spirit fragments of Divinity indwelling the super-conscious mind circuits, in conjunction with the "new Teacher" - the 'Spirit of Truth' - bestowed by Christ at Pentecost and the mind ministry of the 'Holy Spirit'.

 

I don't mean to get off-topic of free-will vs determinism.

 

Thanks amigo, A Dios

Brent

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Guest billmc

For me, and this is just my short 2c, the question is: Do we have a responsibility? To ourselves? To others? To our world? I think (and hope) that the answer is yes.

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For me, and this is just my short 2c, the question is: Do we have a responsibility? To ourselves? To others? To our world? I think (and hope) that the answer is yes.

Bill,

 

I agree with you about personal responsibility. I think the difficulty arises when we judge everyone by the same standard yet we are all influenced in our behavior by different factors and circumstances.

 

George

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Guest billmc

I think that’s wise, George. Discussions on free will and determinism are very interesting. I often enjoy them and I’m not at all trying to stifle or demean the conversation. But, to me, the debates between Calvinists and their determinism and Arminians and their free will are often unfruitful. It’s a debate often focused on causality - why are things the way that they are? Who’s responsible for this mess?

 

To me, this is much like Jesus’ disciples asking him, concerning the blind man, “Why is he like this? Did he sin or did his parents sin?” And, yes, the Bible does support both notions. But Jesus wasn’t concerned with causality, IMO. His response was, “This happened so that God’s glory might be displayed.” At first glance, I balk against this answer. This man was blind just so that people could praise God at the man’s healing? But when I stop and think that God’s glory is best seen in a human life that is restored to all that it can be with, as you have mentioned, all of the complicated context and conditions taken into consideration, then Jesus makes at least a little sense. Rather than debating why things are the way they are, can’t we do whatever we can to make things better? Granted, we are human and there are limits to our power. I can’t even work a TV/DVR/satellite receiver remote control. That’s why God gave me a wife. ;) But surely we can find a middle ground between taking everything as God’s predetermined will and thinking we can do everything. The blame game may be fun for a while, but compassion calls us to do, not what we can’t, but what we can.

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But, to me, the debates between Calvinists and their determinism and Arminians and their free will are often unfruitful. It’s a debate often focused on causality - why are things the way that they are? Who’s responsible for this mess?

Bill,

 

Frankly, I don't agree with either, if I understand them. I think our 'will' is highly, highly influenced by factors of our birth, our social environment and our personal experiences. And, there may be a tad of 'free will' in there as well.

 

This notion of free will is important and not only theologically. It influences our view of social justice (i.e. the poor deserve their status because of choices freely made) as well as criminal justice. We execute people based on the idea that they freely choose to commit the offending act.

 

George

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Hi Brent,

 

Looking for a better grasp of your viewpoint, I wonder if you would 'mind' expanding on your thoughts, as worded:

 

Sorry for the delayed response, thanks for your question. My view regarding “selfless subjectivity” would be that the ego-self is largely a construct. One interpretation of the Eden story is that the forbidden tree is the “tree of self,” which no one is supposed to notice, yet grows in the midst of paradise. Paradise may be seen as selfless activity and being. “The Lord plays and diverts himself in the garden of his creation” (Thomas Merton).

 

That is why I suggested that we “are minds” rather than “have minds.” The former implies our pure and divine existence, the latter invokes the ego. Egoic perception is inherently divided. Undivided selfhood would be indistinguishable from selflessness. To me this has strong consonance with what you write here,

 

I acknowledge good (God’s will) in terms of selflessness -- if regarded as sublime self-forgetfulness, unselfishness, and “enhanced self-realization in conjoined social service and universe comprehension” (UP 180:5:12). Can some other sense of selflessness be actually manifest?

 

You also write,

 

“If not, then I don't see how a concept of (unmanifested) selflessness can be truly considered a characteristic of subjectivity (or anything else, for that matter ). Actual evil (action based on mistaken judgment) or sin (deliberate and conscious evil-choosing) would imply an agent, or so it seems to me.”

 

An “action based on a mistaken judgment” seems to be the most fundamental “sin.” Perhaps believing that one exists as a separate and independent self is at the root of “deliberate and conscious evil-choosing" (selfish choosing of one's own welfare above all others). And if an action is based on a mistaken sense of selfhood - - which is a mistaken metaphysical belief -- then what is the status of the "agent" that one is basing that action on? Just because an evil action is committed does not necessarily mean there was an evil agent behind it. It could be an action based on ignorance -- the mind may be in a state of confusion, believing itself to be something it is not. In this view greed, anger, etc., are not any less real, but they become uprooted.

 

But you are correct that this does not deny any sense of self whatsoever. Mind in its purity would be affirmed, because if false selves are denied, a true self is nonetheless implied. But I think this self is a whole rather than a part or piece that can be inspected.

 

This is just one view to consider.

 

Thanks,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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This notion of free will is important and not only theologically. It influences our view of social justice (i.e. the poor deserve their status because of choices freely made) as well as criminal justice. We execute people based on the idea that they freely choose to commit the offending act.

I would think whether we have freewill to choose a nurturing mother God or a strict father God is a better question politically. It does run parallel to the question of the the free will of the accused but the nurturer and the disciplinarian will see the same amount of free will and act differently. And I guess I don't think theology is the proper tool in these cases. We already more subtle ways of discerning intent. Not everyone agrees and certainly strict fathers have their views but from the very first child who asked, "did you mean it?" we have complex views on the nature of freely choosing that I think are beyond the ability of theology to discern.

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I think any balance of potential for free will vs determination as may occur within any individual is highly individualiized and varable. So many variables at play and interacting, we can talk about everyone being equal all we want, but reality makes it clear we arenot all equal, the same, in abilities, capacities, potentials... Whether by accident of birth (genetics, congenital factors) time and place, what will influence our development, injuries any might suffer...

 

In my studies in many areas of psychology, whether developmental, abnormal, neuro/physio, behavioralism, or cogntition, there was a common thread running through it all that both assigned texts and our professors touched upon on so very lightly, often a feel of giving just a sideways glance to it....that is of biological determinisitc limitations ever present, but as such, so politically and socially "loaded" that extreme caution and responsiblity must be assumed to touching it.

 

Caring and responsible researchers, therapists, dignosticians, clinicians, must ever walk a fine line between the dangers of damage to a vulnerable developing child from assumed pre-judgements and sterotypes that tend to become self fulfilling prophecies, as when adults bombard a child with cruel or even well intentioned but misguided comments and behaviors a child might be suspected, or accused of , being "just like" their "bad" or troublesome parent, and the scientific evidence that some notably diffiucult personality traits and unacceptable behaviors have been proven to have an uncomfortably high heritability index.

Some traits and behavioral patterns such as criminality, conduct disorder, defiance reactive disorder, borderline personaliity disorder, and anti-social psychopathy have been found to have shockingly high heritablity indexes. Similarly, when we explored different causes of mental retardation, this type of defect, or that kind of potential damage, it was as if with the the most reluctance and response to student's persistent questions about, yes, but what of those cases of mental retardation where none of these organic causes can be detected and identified, that the instructor finally bit out the words, in a dropped tone that indicated these were the final words on the matter before we moved on to something else....."familial retardation."

 

It can be hard for even professionals to look unpleasant determinate factors beyond any of our control, that profoundly affect the quality of life potential. To be fair, the reticence to much talk about such things arises out of how easily and readily some in human society have and will use such things to pass blanket judgements and even condemnations on entire catefories of people,singling them out for cruel unfair treatment.

 

As surely as there are those that test out toward the exceptionally high end of the range of any kind of intellegence test, there are those that are going to fall in into the low end....that is the basic law of the Bell curve phenomenon.

 

Considering this, I cannot imagine a God that would hold all people of all ranges of capacities and abilitiies to the same standard....I could not LOVE such a God. A comment in one of Paul's epistles is along the line of what is sin for one man many not be sin for another. I think we are all adjudged according to each our own personal potential, our own standard. I think that when it is said that all fall short of the Glory of God, that Glory of God is the unique, individualized potential each of us has been granted by the circumstances of our birth and life. My potential, the Glory of God against which I am measured, is not the same as anyone else's. That potential takes into account any and all factors that affect and influence my capacities and abilities, as well as limitations, to my ability to make choices and act upon them, my capacity for free will.

And quite the opposite what some may think that to have been granted any 'superior' capacities and abiliities in this regard, as it si written in scripture, to those to whom more is given, is more expected. And I feel an important part of what is expected of those that have been granted more, is that they have a greater responsiblity toward those that have been granted less, responsiblity to help make their lives easier, responsiblity to respond tothem with greater compassion.

 

Jenell

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I would think whether we have freewill to choose a nurturing mother God or a strict father God is a better question politically.

Dutch,

 

From your language, it seems you have read Lakoff's excellent book Moral Politics. Lakoff demonstrates that one's theology would be consistent with one's social and political views. It would be very unusual to have a 'Strict Father' theology and a 'Nurturant Mother' political ideology. A person who thinks that people go to Hell for their sins, would likely to say burn the SOB about a murderer without even wondering about what factors may have led to the person to kill.

 

What Lakoff doesn't address are the factors that lead to one's worldview (Strict Father or Nurturant Mother). This, I think is where biology, society and individual experiences enter the picture. And, these are factors over which we have no, or little, control.

 

George

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What Lakoff doesn't address are the factors that lead to one's worldview (Strict Father or Nurturant Mother). This, I think is where biology, society and individual experiences enter the picture. And, these are factors over which we have no, or little, control.

It is an uphill climb to change the hard wiring. Minor corrections can be made if motivated but I am not an example of this but I am trying. If you are hardwired one way or another it usually takes a novelty, often trauma, o- divorce, heart attacks - , to catch you attention.

 

Strict fathers are having more babies than nurturing mothers for the last few decades. :o

 

Dutch

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It is an uphill climb to change the hard wiring. Minor corrections can be made if motivated but I am not an example of this but I am trying. If you are hardwired one way or another it usually takes a novelty, often trauma, o- divorce, heart attacks - , to catch you attention.

 

Strict fathers are having more babies than nurturing mothers for the last few decades. :o

 

Dutch

Dutch,

 

I am in the middle of a good book about how the brain functions (and malfunctions) titled Brain Bugs: How the Brain's Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano, a scientist at UCLA (I think). He shows how our brains continue to actually physically rewire themselves based on our experiences. As an example, the simple recall of a memory strengthens and modifies the connections.

 

Maybe I should encourage my 'nurturant-parent' son to be more fruitful and multiply. I am not prepared to rejoin the procreation war at my age.

 

George

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The main problem with learning something new on the scale of a worldview is what John Searle calls "the aspect of familiarity". The closer something is to what has already been experience, the easier it is to change a network of beliefs and desires. If you hold to a "strict father" perspective, there are many beliefs and desires that make up this orientation. If you think of it as a script that is, perhaps, the size of a chapter in a book, then a lot of rewrites have to be made for the new script to "play" correctly.

 

Myron

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Myron, you express in a different context what I've expressed elsewhere of what happens within our very complex personal beliefs system, when you move, dislodge, or move a single "belief' or bit of "knowledge"....the heirarchal structure and interactive functions of each bit of belief or knowledge means there's going to be some consequential shifting and re-adjusting going on throughout our entiire personal beliefs system. The more signficant to the overall structure a particular bit of belief or knowledge is, the greater and more dramatic, sometimes traumatic, that shifting is going to be. Sometimes, that is so threatening, frightening, we instead erect a wall between the inconsistencies, what is called an "ego defense", to protect ourselves from what seems an unbearable state of cogntiive dissonance.

 

Jenell

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Hi Mike,

 

Thanks for expanding on your current viewpoint of selfhood and mind. With sincere friendship and in a spirit of mutual understanding, I’ll continue to give further due consideration to your kind expressions.

 

Imo, the concept of an ego-transcendent selflessness with hypothetical subjectivity somehow answering questions regarding free will vs determinism could beg as many questions as it attempts to answer.

 

In spite of the fact that mirages of egoistic separation inherently originating in and morphing with the manifold activities of perception most certainly do usurp selfhood identification, I have heard that true personality patterns and discrete selves are quite real and potentially immortal. The concept is that these ‘personality’ gifts of the First Source and Center are the actual fundamental bases of our individualities. Accordingly, such personal identities are endowed with full liberty of intention to choose or reject Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

 

During mortal life on a time-space evolutionary world such as ours, according to this view, personality identity is associated with a material body, a mind that (while largely electrochemically controlled) is a finite non-material encircuitment within universal cosmic mind, an evolving soul, and an absolute fragment of Divinity (perhaps atman is a close term) which voluntarily indwells the individual mind at a superconscious level.

 

It is said that with the dissolution of the material body after death, the resurrection of personality identity is dependent upon the prior development of a soul of survival value - a cumulative product of co-operative free will decisions with the indwelling Divine spirit fragment (guiding Light) during the short life in the flesh. The personality then resumes the long inward Paradiseward adventure to the Person of Love and Light, sans material body, presumably much the wiser and in esteemed celestial company.

 

Personally, I find such a (necessarily abbreviated) view clarifying, refreshing, liberating, just, merciful, and completely congruent with the Absolute Oneness in Whom “we live and move and have our being.”

 

All the best blessings friends,

Brent

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Hello Brent,

 

Thanks for responding.

 

Imo, the concept of an ego-transcendent selflessness with hypothetical subjectivity somehow answering questions regarding free will vs determinism could beg as many questions as it attempts to answer.

 

I agree that it wouldn't be able to solidify any such answers. I think it could only provide a framework for affirming subjectivity if determinism were proven to be true. Transcendent selflessness is indeed not conceptually equivalent to either determinism or freewill, and therefore has nothing directly to say on either -- aside from perhaps questioning some of the metaphysical assumptions that might go into the dichotomy.

 

In spite of the fact that mirages of egoistic separation inherently originating in and morphing with the manifold activities of perception most certainly do usurp selfhood identification, I have heard that true personality patterns and discrete selves are quite real and potentially immortal. The concept is that these ‘personality’ gifts of the First Source and Center are the actual fundamental bases of our individualities. Accordingly, such personal identities are endowed with full liberty of intention to choose or reject Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.

 

Determinism usually assumes the causal closure of the physical world. I think the “intentionality” to which you allude is really a bane on that materialistic understanding of the mind. It’s one reason I reject causal closure and affirm that there are indeed other forms of causation (for instance, those brought about by the desires of a mind).

 

During mortal life on a time-space evolutionary world such as ours, according to this view, personality identity is associated with a material body, a mind that (while largely electrochemically controlled) is a finite non-material encircuitment within universal cosmic mind, an evolving soul, and an absolute fragment of Divinity (perhaps atman is a close term) which voluntarily indwells the individual mind at a superconscious level.

 

Beautifully stated. For me mind is the most basic reality, and as such a world-soul is implied. The mind's nature is pure knowing.

 

Peace,

Mike

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I often think about the concept of freewill and how we are quite possibly bound by and driven by our wants, needs, and desires and how our wants, needs, and desires are ultimately driven by life circumstance.

 

Just knowing that my actions affect the lives of others, even those who will live long after I am gone drives me to desire to be a better person. It makes me desire to change myself, as it seems quite possible that the wheels of our lives never quit spinning, the turbulence from the spin cycle reaching the four corners of the earth and perhaps even beyond.

 

I then think (Some say too much) that although our desire driven lives are a bit mechanical, we are also free to make mistakes, which suggests to me that our lives are not solely mechanical. I believe that it is our mistakes that motivate us to strive for something better, something more perfect than what we currently experience. Free or not, it could be in our mistakes that we have the greatest potential.

 

They force us to examine ourselves and they push us to strive for better, more perfect things. Without our imperfections, we would have nothing to strive for. So, even though we may very well be tiny mechanisms of a greater machine called life, we are able to change and manipulate our desires by self-refection, by self-examination, by learning from past mistakes, by our knowledge, our understanding, and through wisdom.

 

We are able, and extremely so, to change our course in life, thus it is in our abilities that the slight of freedom is somewhat present. It certainly is not complete freedom, but it is just enough that we are able to change our life direction at any given moment.

 

 

Imagine that you are on a ship and that you are the Captain of that ship. Life itself is the force moving the ship forward. It pushes the ship, giving it momentum, but you are guiding the ship yourself. You are at the helm navigating your way around the ocean, but many things play a part in your decision making.

 

Just like a change of wind direction would motivate you to re-arrange the sails, or the light of a lighthouse would motivate you to change direction to prevent you from hitting the rock strewn shore.

 

You navigate the ship the best you know how, only you do so in accordance to your circumstances, in accordance to each obstacle you face as you move forward. You ultimately guide the ship, but it is life circumstance that causes you to make the changes in navigation.

 

 

One thing I think most can agree on is that we are ultimately driven by our wants, needs, and desires. Free will is defined as having the ability to act voluntarily and free from any outside influence in any given situation, so if we are driven by our wants, needs, and desires, then we are not actually acting voluntarily, but rather we are acting the only way we are able, determined by our strongest want/need/desire at that particular moment.

 

We will always, no matter what make choices according to our strongest want or need, but our choices do not always reflect our intentions. This does not suggest that we have complete freewill, it merely suggests that we are imperfect creatures and prone to make mistakes. A mistake is not a freewill choice. A mistake is simply a desired and intended choice gone wrong.

 

We are not perfect, thus we are prone to make mistakes and it is our mistakes that make us human. Have you ever pondered the idea that the best lessons learned are those that involve us "missing the mark"?

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James,

Enjoyed your post and well thought out reasoning. I do think as you said we learn most through what you call mistakes. In them is the potential found for change or transformation.

 

You said,

We are not perfect, thus we are prone to make mistakes and it is our mistakes that make us human. Have you ever pondered the idea that the best lessons learned are those that involve us "missing the mark"?

 

Just to consider a different view or use of words from my understanding, i would say that i think it is not our mistakes that make us human but rather our being human that makes us seem prone to mistakes. In my view, in a sense we are perfect in that we as humans behave exactly according to and conforming to our creators definition of humans in an infinite variety of choices and consequences. In my view, we are perceived as imperfect only by ourselves because of our own individual or accepted collective perception defined by our self or society at that time that decides what is perfect and what is not or what is a mistake and what is not. Personally i do not see mistakes, only choices and consequences. We learn through evolution of consciousness from those consequences regardless of whether they are thought of as mistakes or not. It is just a different view but i don't think humans are 'missing the mark'. I think we are just viewing it at a point in our evolution.

All of what i said above is to be taken only as my own view for thought or consideration and not to say that it is any more valid than anyone else's.

 

Joseph

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Well said, Joseph! I've never looked at it that way before. I think we are still very much like children, learning how to live effectively. It is the law of cause and effect that motivates change, growth, development, etc. To quote Montgomery Gentry, "To me it's all just common sense, a broken rule a consequence". Perhaps your are correct in saying that there are no mistakes, only what we experience as consequences because of our actions.

 

Good post!

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The realization that mistakes are simply learning opportunites did a great deal to free me from fears of or shame for my mistakes, which of course freed me to be more boldly open to attempting new, untried things in my life..

 

Jenell

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