Last week’s post, subtitled the dilemma of choice, got me thinking anew about “choice” — from the act of it to the impact of it. I’m not sure where we’ll wind up at the end, but let’s get started.
We’ll begin with the definitions.
Curiously, “choice” as an adjective has opposite definitions.
- a positive connotation (of food) of superior quality. “He picked some choice early plums.” Synonyms include first-class, first-rate, prime and
- a negative connotation (of words) as rude and abusive. “He had a few choice words at his command.” Synonyms include insulting, offensive, and unprintable.
What other adjective does that, I wonder?
That was a bit of a digression, but you know I love those. So, let’s get back to CHOICE as a noun, the way I used it last week. It’s defined as
an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities: “The choice between good and evil.” Synonyms include option, alternative, possibility, possible course of action
In the past week we’ve all made many choices
Mine include which books to keep, which dinner to prepare, whether to exercise or put it off once again, and which house to rent for our family gathering in Nova Scotia that my mom has requested for her upcoming 90th birthday celebration. My process in each of these differed only in how many others were involved in the decision. Of course.
These decisions were, in their way, quick, somewhat fun, and the consequences fairly inconsequential (paradoxically). Let’s just say they were easy decisions to make among somewhat obvious options. No scratching of heads needed, just a little time.
But what of those choices that are of more consequence?
- Where to go to college, what to major in, whom to marry
- When to have a baby, or even if, where (and when) to move, or to invest, or to have that troublesome symptom examined
- When to retire, where to live as you age, to whom to leave your money, whether to include a DNR in your advance directive
Each one of these leads to a new path, changing your life forever. Some see new adventures ahead while others are paralyzed by fear (of the unknown?). I see the distinction as less a sign of dysfunction than as a product of culture, what we’ve picked up in our life about “normal.”
CHOICE BRINGS ABOUT CHANGE
Choice means change. Choice means the path you are on forks up ahead (or, heavens! right now) and you can’t be on both at the same time. You could go down one for a bit, then turn around and try the other path — if you lived in my metaphor. Unfortunately, most choices don’t offer that option.
You can’t choose to have both the pot roast and the vegetarian dinner. I can’t lose weight and eat that delicious looking whatever. We can’t move to the south of France and stay close to our friends. Given a fixed time frame, of course. Choose one; just do it.
What of those who believe they “have no choice”?
Have you noticed how heroes tend to say some variation of “I had to do it. I didn’t think about it, I just did it.” I have many of these “I had no choice” stories. One of my favorites involves the American Quaker colony that now lives in Costa Rica. How they got there and why (“we had no choice” they tell me) is one of my current WsIP, which I’ll be writing more about as the months go by. I hope.
Then there are those who do have a choice, but may not realize it.
How many remember this idea from Eldridge Cleaver in the 1960s?
And Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing during World War II:
Laurie Buchanan, fellow author and blogger (Tuesdays with Laurie) and regular commenter here, speaks to this idea in her tagline:
“Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
These all speak, I think, to the inherent belief that each of us holds the power to make a difference, the ability to make the right choice, to do good, to grow. We just need to believe it and trust that it’s true.
I like the phrase that social scientists use when they study this stuff: personal efficacy. And they view it as an aspect of a character or identity (depending on the field).
But not everyone knows they have this power, either individually or collectively.
How or when do we realize that we have a choice? How do we come to know that what we do, matters? When do we stop going along and take our stand?
Isn’t that the core question of our time? Perhaps even the gateway to adulthood? I like to think so.
But moving on, once we feel that sense of personal or collective power, we recognize that in among the choices we have is also the one to do nothing, whether we choose to let sleeping dogs lie and “not rock the boat,” or we choose to “accept the unacceptable” and “let it go,” we know it’s a conscious choice we are making.
Beyond asking yourself, “Is this a choice I can or cannot live without?” I recommend always asking, “What is my motive in making this choice?” Here are three I’ve experienced along the way:
- To help, to fix, to rescue and in so doing, enhance my sense of self worth (regardless of its impact on the other)
- To help someone who needs a hand and in so doing, enabling the other to succeed (without expecting anything in return)
- To grow and in so doing, to have a new adventure (and vice versa)
The Serenity Prayer came to mind often while I lived in Kazakhstan.
One of my early struggles that first year came as I saw the different ways in which life could be improved “if only . . .” At first I assumed they lacked the “courage to change” and I was frustrated.
It was only when I recognized that it was me, lacking the “serenity to accept,” that I could relax and enjoy my time there. Yes, that “wisdom to know the difference” has always been the tricky one for me.
Kazakhstan is a country with a
demagogue strong executive who rules with an iron hand (or did before he stepped down as I was writing this post; doesn’t matter, no one believes much will change.). The people I met there had far fewer options than those of us privileged to have been born in the West. Once I accepted that fact, I was able to give them the admiration they deserved for making their life still meaningful and even fun.
I think of the many right here in the USA who would love to move to a better neighborhood with better schools and safer streets, but lack the funds to make it happen; or those who want to change jobs but lack the understanding of where to start.
And I think of the millions throughout history stuck in refugee camps, internment camps, or concentration camps. They cannot change their situation, but they can, as Victor Frankl wrote so eloquently in Man’s Search for Meaning, change their attitude toward their circumstances. “When we are no longer able to change a situation,” he wrote, “we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all had that sense of personal efficacy to change the circumstances of our lives? Or to recognize when a change in attitude is called for?
Social change through personal empowerment, was once my tagline. And, as I write this type of post, I see it is still something I believe in, strongly.
Whether I actually bring that about, I don’t really know. So, I’ll just continue to write these posts, expand my blog’s reach through reader shares, and hope that the readers I attract will be ones for whom the questions I continue to ask myself will be equally challenging to them.
If not, there’s always this to keep in mind:
How about you? Where are you on the personal efficacy continuum?