The concept of free will is at the heart of society itself. We assume that people who do bad things have made a conscious decision to be hurtful, and that they did so after having had equal access to the same information, the same viewpoints, the same opportunities, the same internal motivations, and the same degree of willpower that we might muster in this particular situation. It's a wonderful idea . . . just like Santa Claus. In truth, however, the concept of free will is more illusion than fact, and recognizing the limits of free will can help us mute the pain we feel when others around us do hurtful things. It will also give you a healthier perspective on dealing with others in your everyday life, so that you can approach the world with a much more practical level of social intelligence.
As we'll explain throughout this chapter, free will is largely an illusion. But we'll also help you understand why this revelation needn't be as threatening as most people first think it to be, and discuss why it also doesn't imply that we are powerless vessels with no control over our own actions and our own future. You'll come away with a healthier understanding of the limits of free will that will help you deal with others in a more productive and realistic way.