The Most Basic Freedom Is the Freedom to Quit

Peter Gray – February 12, 2018

We like to think of human rights in affirmative terms, so we speak most often of our rights to move toward what we want: our rights to vote, assemble freely, speak freely, and choose our own paths to happiness. My contention here, however, is that the most basic right — the right that makes all other rights possible — is the right to quit.

Quitting often has negative connotations in our minds.  We grow up hearing things like, “Quitters never win, winners never quit.”  We’re supposed to stick things out, no matter how tough the going. I rather like this variation, which I heard somewhere: “Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots.”

If we move our minds out of the quagmire of competition (indeed, we can’t win tennis matches by quitting) and think of life’s broader goals — the goals of surviving, avoiding injury, finding happiness, and living in accordance with our personal values among people whom we respect and who respect us — then we see that freedom to quit is essential to all of these goals. I am talking here about the freedom to walk away from people and situations that are harmful to our wellbeing.

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