From Dorothy Martyn’s masterful treatise on child psychology Beyond Deserving. A few of these lines have appeared on here before, but the longer quote is terrific, especially in conjunction with the Milosz poem below. From pages 155-156:
’I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul’ has remained for some who learned the lines in high school a stirring and inspirational thought. It was quoted by Timothy McVeigh, the condemned Oklahoma terrorist, just before his execution. What utter illusion in this person clearly enslaved to the invisible forces working within him! His belief that he had been in charge of himself all along, a free agent making autonomous decisions, is only an extreme case of a very common idea closely related to the popular understanding of ‘responsibility’.
The fact is that the human mind is not made of one piece, fully in control of its actions, able fully to carry out its intentions, acting autonomously on the environment… Along with our intentions, regardless of our varying strengths, what we think and will do, as subjects, is always also under the influence of something else… The evidence that human beings are not entirely in charge of their own castles is too clear to be missed.
We adults do not like to face the fact that we are not the sole directors of our thoughts and actions, because it is a blow to our illusion of autonomy and power and pre-eminence in the universe…
Given the more realistic understanding of the limitations of human autonomy, what does the word “responsibility” mean? In this light, responsibility changes its colors. We are more responsible, not less so, when we are aware of forces that are working on us beyond our ability to control them. Denial of that truth, along with actions that do not take that truth into account, is the height of irresponsibility.”
To hear Dr. Martyn’s talk at the 2009 Mockingbird Conference, go here.