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All human flourishing is enabled by restrictions. Similarly, when restrictions are lifted, or when a person is subject to no restrictions, flourishing descends into decay.

Let me give you an example. Algae forms a small percentage of the life in the sea. Normally algae are subject to tough restraints, competing for the limited nutrition (mainly phosphates and nitrates) in the ocean.

Sometimes, due to reasons both natural and manmade, there are patches of ocean exceptionally rich in phosphates and nitrates. Algae reproduce at a phenomenal rate in these patches. When this happens, the algae monopolize all the available nutrients in the patch. Other marine life dies out when it encounters the algae patch, leaving a giant dead patch behind the algae. It may take years before life in that area is restored to normal.

This applies to human flourishing. The absence of constraints leads to gross excess that ultimately destroys. We should all respect the restraints in our life. Sometimes we cannot act the way we want, cannot pursue the goals we desire. We should be open to the possibility that where a restraint denies the desire, that denial can have a positive outcome for both the individual and society. I believe that this idea is at the heart of all concepts of law.

Restrictions also create flourishing in the positive sense. Let me give another, very different example. During Ramadan, many people question my actions. They find it hard to accept that I willingly accede to the restrictions of fasting, communal prayers or abstention from entertainment. However, I find, and I believe many Muslims will say the same, that my faith, spirituality and humanity thrive during the restrictions of Ramadan. I told one colleague how ineffably and inexplicably I felt that I was living life as I wished to live. It was not some expression of guilt, or fear or social pressure, but genuine happiness as life was restricted into a refined form that allowed part of me (my spiritual dimension) to flourish.

Restrictions create positive flourishing by requiring us to activate the capacity for human focused action. When forced by the restraint to live within its confines, we acquire the discipline to live a focused productive life. This positive application leads to flourishing, both as we grow and as we learn how to use the strengths of the restrictions to channel our growth in a way that allows us to achieve more in our chosen field of endeavour.

There are other aspects to restrictions that I throw out there for your contemplation. Restrictions can be used in a variety of ways: to generate interest (i.e. a limited time offer), to deepen the impact of something (i.e. black and white photography), to demonstrate skill (i.e. to draw using only a biro). There are some art forms that exist only because of the restrictions that they contain (i.e. a sonnet or a haiku). There are professions that exist because of the restrictions that pertain to them (i.e. medicine or law). I believe that you cannot flourish in any of these things without accepting the inherent paradox of the creative and destructive nature of their particular restrictions.

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