Ode to an underrated trait: Self-Will

self-will the underrated trait

On self-will, stubbornness and being opinionated

Self-will and being opinionated are brothers in a way. Recently, I saw a post by a thought leader I respect very much. It spoke against being opinionated and implied that opinionated people might be inflexible and closed-minded. Unable to listen. Unwilling to change. It was the first time I did not fully agree with something written by this incredible leader I hold in the highest regards. If you know me, you know I am opinionated and have a strong sense of self-will. Therefore, I belong to the group targeted by this post and that’s not something you can just ignore. Because I value this person and his teachings a lot, I sat back and reflected long and hard on his arguments and statements. Should I change? Should I change my training material?
  • Does having an opinion make me unable to listen?
  • Is my self-will egoistic?
  • Is my mind closed when I formed an opinion about something?
  • Is having a point of view a sign of ignorance?
Being agreeable is an instinct. Therefore, I wondered for a minute if I should share my conclusion. Then again, if you are a regular visitor to my article section or even a subscriber to my newsletter or client, you are here because you know who I am. You know what I stand for and what makes me tick.

Self-will and other virtues

There are a lot of virtues people aim to possess. But first: Let me give you the translation of the German word for stubbornness: (Eigensinn) “own sense.” Something that has its own sense. Someone stubborn follows their own sense. As opposed to what? Here are a few virtues I found listed on a homepage about good parenting:
  • Being on time
  • Humbleness
  • Honour
  • Excellence
These are not bad traits per se. What they do have in common, though, is that they have been invented to make us followers. Easy to control. Follow the laws, the rules of society and other people (for instance, a manager.) Self-will is the only virtue that is about following ourselves. “Own sense.” I know that own sense is not a word and I hope you’ll forgive me for using it. This article is not a call for a revolution or becoming anti-social. Revolution is war and I stand for happiness. A society can only work if everyone accepts and fulfills their role. But that does not mean thinking for yourself and being aware that you accept a role is a bad thing. Every virtue turns into a negative in an extreme. The person who is good with money vs the cheap person, for instance.
The world is not a talking shop. Decisions have to be made.
Alfred Herrhausen

Why do stubbornness, self-will, and opinion have a bad reputation?

If you look at the history of the world, all impactful change-makers (for the better or worse) were stubborn (self-willed) and opinionated. Just think of Mandela, Socrates – or if you are religious Jesus Christ. Once someone achieved success, we’re willing to call it "visionary", “charismatic”, “a lot of personality”, “individualist.” But until then, we consider self-will a character flaw. We group people into followers and leaders. Followers do not follow their “own sense”, they fulfill someone else’s vision. Our economic system would crash if everyone would think for themselves, ask questions and only do what made sense to them and served their growth. It can only work because most people follow orders. Explaining, influencing is much more exhausting than just giving orders. It’s understandable that the very teachers who tell us about the heroes, the self-willed people of ancient times, teach us to be compliant.

Self-will and egoism

Self-will, following your own sense, is egoistic. (It's a word now, I said it five times!) Egoistic in the good sense, not in the greedy or ruthless way. Every creature (besides humans and the pets they tame) follows their growth instinct to become the best version of themselves. They follow an inner law. Or we could say: calling. Every creature, every thing follows its calling. The inner voice that leads them to do what’s the best growth strategy for them. People and many other creatures also have the need for closeness, ergo the herd instinct. It’s also shared protection. While the compromises one must make to be a part of a herd are not endangering our health and happiness, the sacrifices, for instance, a fabric worker in the assembly line at Apple’s partner in China has to make are endangering his health and limit his growth. Can you imagine a herd of 100 animals where 2 animals get 90% of the food and all others have to chew on a few leftovers? Perhaps even toxic? But that is how our trickle down economy works. It cannot work if everyone follows their growth instinct. Our current model is based on exploitation and can only work if the vast majority of people are obedient. The more unnatural we live, the higher the suicide, depression, drug abuse rates. Not everyone who gives you orders has your best interest in mind. Without self-will, you will neither become the best version of yourself nor have a lot of success and happiness in your life. Everyone has an agenda. I repeat. Every. One. Has an agenda. And the agenda is always selfish. Not just people who want to exploit you for their personal gain wrongfully advice you to let go of your own self. We assess situations coming from what we know. People share advice from their biased point of view. Biased by their upbringing, intellectual capabilities, learned skills, what they expect from us. Everyone's ability to predict is compromised by the pain they suffered and by what we observed. We're not aware of it, but it's all parked in the long-term storage of our mirror neurons. People have more or less selfish agendas. Everyone has one. The point is:
  • You have to think for yourself to make educated decisions
  • To become your best/happiest, you have to have self-will
  • Emotional intelligence helps you to understand someone’s agenda
  • Following your own sense is your very responsibility and protects your core

Last words

  • Every virtue turns into a negative in the extreme
  • Having an opinion means you thought about something. It does not imply you’re not open to listen and change your opinion
  • The world needs more people who think for themselves and who stand for something
  • Opinionated people with self-will are harder to manipulate
  • The biggest change-makers in the history of the world were stubborn
  • People with emotional intelligence have a strong self-will
  • We have to understand someone’s agenda to decide if they will harm us or support our growth
  • Dr. Mark Goulston and I can help you to understand everyone's agenda and achieve your full growth potential. We help individuals and teams to become more influential.

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