“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor” (Henry David Thoreau).
FREEDOM OF THE WILL IS A TRULY MARVELOUS ENDOWMENT. We often take it for granted, but the ability to choose our own character and our own conduct is nothing short of remarkable.
By exercising our will we can, as Thoreau said, elevate our lives “by conscious endeavor.” That doesn’t mean we are capable of doing anything we want to do, nor does it mean we have it within our personal power to solve every problem that confronts us. What it does mean is that we can make a difference for good by our choices: we can, by conscious choice, take steps in a better direction.
The pity is, we don’t do so more often. Rather than taking positive steps, we worry, we make excuses, we blame and accuse, we rail against the unfairness of life. In short, we become “reactive” people.
Being “proactive” means acknowledging the freedom of the human will by taking responsibility for our own character and conduct — acting on our principles rather than just reacting to what happens around us. Proactivity means “more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions” (Stephen R. Covey). Truly, there aren’t many more worthy challenges than the challenge of learning to be responsible, proactive people.
In this world, there is much that is beyond our control. Indeed, most things are beyond our control, and there is no sense in denying it. But proactive people are glad to exert a good influence wherever they can, and they recognize that the one thing that always lies in their control is also the most important: their inward character. We can choose, by “conscious endeavor,” to elevate our character, and when we fail to do so, blaming our low-quality character on our circumstances, we default on the greatest responsibility of human life.
“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in the future and to inspire others to do so as well” (Stephen R. Covey).