Life is all about choices. And the ones we make, and the ones we don’t define who we are, and define our lives. Choice itself has many interpretations and applications – from basic choices we make in our daily lives, to choice as an expression of free will, and a million things in between.
Choice is good, and choice is bad, depending on who you are, and on what you apply your choices. And the impact of choice itself depends upon the degrees with which you apply it.
Then there are informed choices and there are misplaced ones. Choices based on articulated life goals and beliefs are a very powerful thing, but Choices driven by hollow ‘freedom to choose whatever one wants’, or worse, out of rebellion, is sure-pure destructive in the long run, as much as it may seem to be ‘the brilliant light of hope and success’ in in the eyes of the beholder.
I am currently reading a fascinating book called The Art of Choosing, by Sheena Iyengar, and would like to share some interesting, thought-provoking passages from it – starting with the first essential of Choice – a goal. Because this seems to be the biggest stumbling block in society today, when it comes to making choices. What are we making them for? What’s the end to which Choice is a means?
“So we return to this question: If we don’t even know our own minds, how do we figure out what will make us happy? We can temper the automatic system with the reflective system, and vice versa, but we still make mistakes. Perhaps, instead of looking for answers only within ourselves, we should examine what others have done in similar situations.”
The irony about making “My Choice”, is that it often forces people to make a choice different from what others have made. Because very often accepting “another’s choice” is seen as conforming, as in the opposite of making your own choice, hence the need to be/state/do it differently, in order to express your “own choice”, albeit without clarity of the reality.
“What’s so ironic about this predicament is that the information we need to make accurate predictions of our emotional futures is right under our noses, but we don’t seem to recognize its aroma”. We tend to think that the experiences of others are mostly irrelevant because our circumstances and our personalities have no equivalents. “[We] think of ourselves as unique entities – minds unlike any others, and thus we often reject the lessons that the emotional experience of others has to teach us.”
“We tend to have a knee-jerk negative response to anything that seems to want or have control over us. We worry that if we give up any control, we may eventually become nothing more than robots. Our anxiety is not always unwarranted, but too much of it is counterproductive. The problem may lie in the fact that we tend to put choice on a pedestal, so much so that we expect to be able to bend everything to our will. We would serve ourselves better by separating the influences that conflict with our values from the influences that are basically harmless. We can then consciously examine our reasoning process to combat some of the covert effects of the negative influences…
…by focusing on things that really matter, we avoid running ourselves ragged over decisions that are simply not important in the long run.”
Now the truth is, given emancipation of society (regardless of education and responsibility levels), and emergence of empowered individuality (irrespective of whether or not the individuality is well thought out or intentioned), the world and our lives have today become an incredible, dazzling, “supermarket of choices” where you can walk down any aisle of life, and be faced with rows and rows of choices. From the love section, to the friends and family department, to the work and professional aisle – the choices go beyond the wildest Starbucks customisation fantasy.
In the book, Iyengar points us to Alexis de Tocqueville, the French thinker who keenly chronicled American society, and described as follows, the consequences of ever-increasing choice, starting 170 years ago:
“In America I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in the world; yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow, and they seemed serious and almost sad even in their pleasures… They clutch onto everything, but hold nothing fast, and so lose their grip as they hurry after some new delight.”
At the end of the day, I am a huge fan of Choice. And the ability to choose ones friends, work, relationships and the nature of it all. The point is, Choice, like a loaded gun, is a potent weapon. Wield it well, and it will protect you for life, fool around with it, and you could end up shooting yourself in the foot!
“Choosing helps us create our lives. We make choices, and are in turn made by them. Science can assist us in becoming more skillful choosers, but at its core, choice remains an art. To gain most from it, we must embrace uncertainty and contradiction. It does not look the same to all our eyes, nor can everyone agree on its purpose. Sometimes choice pulls us to itself, other times it repels us. We use it without exhausting it, and the more we uncover, the more we find still hidden. We cannot take full measure of it. Therein lies its power, its mystery, and its singular beauty”
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