a blog by J.M. Cottle
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I am the Sultan from Aladdin, and you might be, too

So there’s this princess named Jasmine. Jasmine’s dad, the Sultan, wants her to hurry up and get married, because The Law says she has to marry a prince by her next birthday. Naturally, Jasmine hates all the princes and falls in love with a beggar. The beggar pretends to be a prince so he can marry her. When everyone finds out about his lie, it’s sad, because The Law won’t let Jasmine marry a beggar. But her dad is like, wait a second, wait a second, I think I’ve got an idea. Remember how I’m the Sultan? That means I can change The Law. So guess what, now The Law says you can marry anybody. Bam!

The Sultan, who has no name but does have a pretty great hat

No, really.

SULTAN: It’s that law that’s the problem.

JASMINE: Father?

SULTAN: Well, am I sultan or am I sultan? From this day forth, the princess shall marry whomever she deems worthy.

As a kid, I loved the movie Aladdin, but I was annoyed by this part. Couldn’t the Sultan have… I don’t know… changed The Law before the evil genie nearly killed everyone? I know he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the palace, but to have the hardships of the entire story rendered moot by one guy suddenly remembering his job title felt kind of like cheating.

Today it struck me that the Sultan had a very common problem, one that I struggle with myself: he duped himself into believing he was trapped.

It’s all about existential freedom, my friends

I’ve already written a bit about freedom and how to use it. Now I want to give some examples. My view of freedom seems pretty commonplace in certain circles of the blogosphere, but among a lot of people I know personally, it’s radical and difficult to explain without making myself sound morbid. I’ll do my best.

When I bump into something that makes me feel trapped, the most important thing to remember is that I have a choice. No matter what obstacle I’m facing, I always have a choice.

  • I feel trapped in my job, so I remember that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow. I could sleep all day instead, because going to work is not like gravity. It’s not inevitable. I choose to go to work.
  • I feel trapped where I live, so I remember that I don’t have to stay here. I could get up right now and start walking and never come back. There is nothing stopping me except myself. I choose to stay here.
  • I feel trapped in my body, so I remember that I don’t have to stay in it. I could kill myself. I choose to remain alive in this body.

That last one sounds morbid to people when I mention it, but I think it’s liberating. If the option to die is always available, then every moment that I am alive is a moment I have chosen. It wakes me up. It helps me remember that expectations don’t matter, that The Law doesn’t exist, and that I am responsible for what I do with my chosen moment. Complaining about my supposed lack of options doesn’t make sense. There is always a way out.

Let’s show The Law who’s boss

Many people I know feel trapped somehow — in jobs, in relationships, in particular life narratives. They use phrases like “I have no choice” and “I have to do this”. I catch myself using these phrases, too, and I try to go back and change it to something more accurate. We always have choices, and there is nothing we have to do. We don’t even have to breathe; we choose to breathe because we want to stay alive.

The Sultan forgot that he had power over The Law, so he thought that he had to get his daughter married to a prince. He treated The Law like it was as unavoidable as gravity when, in fact, he could change it with a single sentence.

Are you feeling trapped because of your own Law? Maybe it’s time to remind yourself that you do have options. Once you remember that, it can be easier to be happy about the decision you have made, but you can also pick a different option. This moment is yours, freely chosen.

I chose to stay up until 1:00am writing this blog post even though The Law says I have to go to bed at 10:00pm every night. Well, am I sultan, or am I sultan? I make my own Law.

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