Just oh-so-briefly glancing around the interwebs, I saw that “Choices” is becoming a pretty common theme. I’m actually gratified by this, as so many folk seem to be living with the thought that they have no choice.
Even when the only choices you have are bad ones, you still have choices. And to imagine feeling there is none? Well. I, personally, would find that very frightening.
To begin and kinda explain where my little pea-brain is coming from on this one, let me relate to you a tale of two sisters. Hey, good line that one, eh?
The first sister was my biological sister, eight years my junior. Without going into great detail, I’ll say that I knew that woman from the time her umbilicus fell off while I was changing her diaper, until the day I had to stand and deliver her eulogy, just after her 30th birthday. In short, after a tumultuous childhood, she ended up in prison, having become strung out on heroin. She went in to prison jaded, strung-out, emaciated. She came out grinning, clean, and overweight. But she learned a great deal about herself in there; one of the things she learned was her control over her own destiny. “Really,” she said to me during a conversation after she got out, “if you think about it, we’re all writing our own stories. We think we’re just acting in them, but really, we’re writing them as we go. So I just decided one day I didn’t like what I was writing, and that it was time to change it.”
That woman would have never have hesitated to stand, and continue standing, for something she believed in. Argue with you? Oh, no, not really. She’d just go about doing whatever it was she had in her mind to do. That’s it.
The second sister is a sister-of-my-heart. Met her online, then met her in person (yay!), and from the first time we started talking, it was as though we’d known each other our entire lives. That connection, it was intense. Unfortunately, she is married to a very very bad man; if he doesn’t display every symptom for a clinical diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, then I’ve never met anyone who does — and I was married to one of those for 10 years. Eventually, things came to a head because I wouldn’t let him play King of the Hill; if I disagreed with him, then I disagreed with him. Now, understand, in Isende-world? Disagreements are acceptable, and even encouraged. Disagreement breeds new thought, new ideas. So I’m all for it. But this man? No. It ended up that he engineered an online battle between he & me, with our other halves along for the ride. And he … well. To say he’s called me the C-word more than once would be an understatement.
After that event, I thought, and I realized that I could not maintain a relationship with him anymore. Further, I was unwilling to ever again have either his wife, or my husband, dragged into a dispute between he & me. I would not tolerate that again! However, the healthy decision to cut him out of my life would absolutely impact my relationship with this sister-of-my-heart. So, did some more thinking. Options, I said … it’s all about options. I wrote her a letter, and told her that I felt it necessary to remove myself from his life, and I understood that her maintaining a relationship with me would make her life hell at home. So, I told her, I’m cutting off contact. If you need me, you know where I am, but you don’t need to worry about me interjecting myself between you guys. Her reply was “You left me no choice, and so I’m doing what you want.”
Now, to be fair, she acted exactly as I thought she would; she took the easy option. See, it is all about the options. The choices. There’s an old saying, “We can do this the easy way, or we can do it the hard way.” That’s an apt saying. In this case, what played through my mind as I offered her this option was the sure knowledge of how my biological sister would have handled things. She would have laughed, rolled her eyes, then picked up the phone and called me, as though she had no clue what I was doing.
Choice. Option. Easy way, or hard way. The easy way for the second sister was accepting my giving her no choice. The hard way, which would have had to factor in her life at home with her husband, as well as possibly debating with me, would have been to reject my option.
This is the beginning of what I mean about choices; in this blog, I’m going to cover several avenues of thought about good choices vs. bad choices. In the next one, I’m going to cover how we apply our power of choice to our everyday lives. I’m gonna have fun with that one!
So. Let’s really dive down into this topic, shall we? In short, the purpose of this blog is to empower you. Each one of you, reading this (all three? four? lol) has far more choices than you’re probably accustomed to thinking you have. I mean, we spend our formative years in school learning how to sit down and shut up; then we go to secondary school and continue that behavior. Then we graduate to adulting, head out into the real world, snag that cushy job … and continue sitting down and shutting up. Truth is, we’ve been perfectly groomed for following our fearless leader(s) (boss? husband? wife? polititian?), so how can we have also learned about personal choice — personal accountability?
Let’s play with a couple of scenarios. One of them was originally contributed to me by my first husband; other than two amazingbrilliantsuperbphenomenal daughters, it was about the best thing that man ever gave me. It follows thus:
You’re walking down the street, innocently appropo of nothing … when someone slams into you. As you catch yourself, shocked, you turn to see who/what happened to you, and if they’re ok. But as soon as you turn around, they’re in your face, yelling at you for not watching where you’re going.
Now, stop here. Don’t think about the other person, think about yourself, right here. Imagine your mental (and physical — your sympathetic system probably got a huge rush outta that!) state at that moment. Uncertain what happened, no clue why someone’s in your face yelling at you. What do you do? Well, that’s where the choice comes in. You see, most folk would say “I’d get pissed!” or “I’d be scared!” — but that’s what you’d feel, not what you’d do. There is a difference. Reality is that there are some people who respond to everything on a hair trigger; they re-act. We’ve all heard about them, or known them, and so we assume there are a lot of them. In my life, however, I can honestly say I’ve only known a handful of these people, and I’ve known a great many people, in some fun and not-so-fun experiences. So if you add up five, or let’s be generous and say 10 of these people, out of the thousands I’ve known in the course of my 49 years, you’d realize that that’s actually a small number.
Some of us freeze. Some of us look for the quickest way out of here. And some of us look inside ourselves and ask, “What am I going to do right now? Am I in immediate danger? What’s the other person look like — angry, or afraid?” I’d almost instantly assess as much information as I have on hand, then immediately run through about a dozen scenarios, playing off most-likely-possible outcomes, until I figured out an approach … then I’d open my mouth. Oh, wait, I’d step backwards first, raising my hands in front of me in a placatory gesture. Honestly, my mouth would be opening just as my front foot was meeting my back foot in that backwards step. You see, I’m what’s called hyper-vigilant, and that is its own fun, but somehow or another I’ve picked up the knack of making almost-instant assessments that are action, of some sort. I have learned that I function better when I have a direction to be moving in, any direction!
What would I say? Who knows? “Are you ok?” or “Can I help you?” or “I’m sorry, do I know you?” to “Oh, wow, my bad, I’m sorry!”
The point of this blather is that each of those questions represents a choice I’m making. Each one represents, as well, the choice to not just slug this jerk who’s trying to blame me for his clumsiness! Do I best defuse the situation with belligerence, concern, curiosity, confusion, or apology?
Now, let’s turn it around. You’re the person on the other end, the one who smashed in to me, seemingly out of nowhere, and then got up in my face, blaming me for your inability to walk and chew bubblegum. What’s going through your mind? What are your choices, as this person? Here, again, many would say “There is no choice.” Why? Because at this point you’ve already made an arse of yourself, so you need to save face by not backing down. Honestly, read that aloud, and explain where it makes sense. It makes more sense, in our reptile brains, to hurt ourselves and/or someone else than to say “Oh, wow, my bad!” Anyway, there are still choices. At this point, you can refuse to listen to the other person, walk away, continue screaming at them, or listen to them, stop, think. Yeah, I know, apparently this person’s in a really bad mood (or crazy), but to say they don’t have a choice in their behavior because of their mood? Puh-leeze!
So that’s scenario #1, and it’s as brief as I could make it, so if you have thinks to add to it, I’d love to hear’em!
Scenario #2 is a bit more brutal and ugly, but it more clearly, in my opinion, demonstrates those times when the only possible choices are bad. I’ll go ahead and warn you — it’s graphic. But there are situations in our lives that occur which will force us in to making choices that are this emotionally harrowing. Entering a situation like this knowing you have the power to dictate your own behavior may be the only benefit you have, and it’s a very important one. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get off without pain; it does mean you have the option of doing everything in your own power to mitigate that pain.
You’re home, your young child playing in the living room while you’re messaging your partner about dinner plans. All of a sudden someone comes out of the kitchen behind you, walks between you and your child and points a gun at the child’s head. “Drop and suck me,” he instructs you.
Now, stop here. Again, imagine the emotional and physical state you’ll be in. Your mind will be racing, trying on and discarding scenario after scenario after scenario. Physically, you’re ready to flee or fight; your child is threatened! Fighting’s the more desired option, but you may cause your child to be hurt or injured. What, in this situation, are your choices?
Well, let’s take’em from the top:
- Do what he says
- Do what he says, and in an appropriate moment reach up, grab his cojones and bite down
- Grab the nearest thing at hand and throw it at him, hoping he’ll react instinctively and block whatever’s coming toward his face (YES, AIM FOR THE FACE!)
- Lunge toward him, given you’re within a couple of feet, and fall into him, hoping he misses your child
- Scream and do nothing
- Cry and beg him not to hurt your child
- Attempt to dial 911 on your phone without appearing to be doing so
In short, there are at least nine choices you have, but not a single bloody one of them is good. I guess we could say 10, if we add in “Enter a catatonic state” …
Ugly choices. Choices like making your kid eat PB&J every day this week so you can pay for their school lunches. Or like taking that third job and being gone even more, so that you don’t lose your house and/or car. Or like deciding if you can sleep in your car, shower in your work’s gym, and save up enough money not lose the car, maybe eventually rent someplace …
Ugly choices. These are the ones that most often freeze people. I think part of the reason for the freezing is what I’ve said above; we’ve not been taught that it’s acceptable for us to make decisions for ourselves. From the religious community trying to dictate our morality to the government trying to dictate our obedience, we’ve been inculcated for decades now to follow the rules. Be a good little citizen, do what you’re told, and we’ll do all the heavy lifting for you. We’ll tell you what’s funny, what’s news, what’s important — you just go earn & then spend your money, and hey, don’t make waves, k?
I think this is certainly a part of it. But I think it’s also got to do with so many other things; a desire by many to step away from having to make decisions; a significant breaking down of our educational priorities; an increase in the number of over-medicated children; an increase in the number of broken homes. Yeah, lots of other things. But see, this is the important part, right here. Because you’re reading this right now, and might choose to read it again if you decide you want to, you’re already processing the fact that you have options. You’re waking up to the fact that your world is so much bigger than you thought, even just five minutes ago. And what that means is that, from this moment right now, you can begin writing your life. You can begin considering what your actions will be, rather than your reactions (and at some point I intend to cover that topic, as well!). You realize that yes, knowing you have choices means you’re going to be responsible, now, for your actions; but it’s worth it to know that you can now direct your own life.
Ok, let’s take a moment here. Heady stuff, eh? That last bit is really important to revisit for a paragraph or so. Because that’s probably the biggest reason we don’t realize we have choices. It’s willful ignorance. As long as we can say to ourselves, “I had no choice,” then whatever happens isn’t our fault. It’s not our responsibility, and we don’t have to deal with it. Well, actually, yeah, we will have to deal with it in some form, but in a very passive (easy) form. Knowing that you can willfully act, rather than passively react, means that you can’t just pretend (at least to yourself) anymore that you had no choice, that it wasn’t your responsibility.
That fear of failing in that responsibility can be crippling, but it can also be overcome. Because you’ve seen it now, and because you’ve recognized it, it’ll come back and play through your head at inopportune times. But it will bring you peace of mind. Because you learn how to make choices based on risk, rather than on hope that bad things won’t happen.
One of my favorite-and-most-hated authors, Robert Jordan, had a character named Lan Mandragoran. I’m probably misquoting it, so I apologize, but this character had an outlook on life that helped to teach me how I wanted to shape my outlook. One of the quotes I remember oh-so-well was “Do what you have to. Just be willing to pay the price.”
I’m going to wrap up part 1 now, and just let you reflect on that quote. Or, if you’re a Jordan fan, you can correct either my reference, or my quote — or both! Chat atcha later!