DiversityNZ logo

Posted by Philip on 20 May 2011, 11:22 am in , , , , ,

To choose or not to choose: is it our choice?

A road sign pointing to many directionsThis morning I posted this quote on my Facebook page:

”Your feelings are your response to what you are being, but your being is not a response to anything. It is a choice." Neale Donald Walsch.

It created a great conversation with Sam and Sharon within an hour, early even though it was. I thought I’d summarise it as a blog as I think it brings up interesting about the nature of choice and whether the belief that we lack choice is the cause or the result of hurtful circumstances.

Sam said, “I think there are times when we don't have choices as such, times when our capacity or awareness isn't in a place to know what the choices even are, you don't know what you don't know kinda thing...'choice' is a skill that some of us learn a little later in life...in my opinion.”

Sharon agreed. “Choice is something that we all have right from birth but it doesn’t mean anything until our body systems mature. Sometimes its not always the brain that matures first."

Sam added she’d “initially thought of 'battered womans syndrome' and how people often judge the person that hasn't been able to choose to leave the relationship...and stuff around 'madness' and some of the early learning that can happen.”

“That’s true,” replied Sharon, “sometimes circumstances prevent that maturity from showing through.”

This is where I came back in. I subscribe to a bit of a conspiracy theory around this. I think education, familial, political and media institutions teach us, particularly young people, that they/we DON'T have choices, deliberately to maintain control, and this causes syndromes such as Sam mentioned, rather than these circumstances resulting in a belief that we lack choice. We need to reverse this conditioning. I pointed out I was taking a deliberately provocative stance, rather than a blaming one, for discussion's sake.

Sharon thought I was talking sense, “but I think the lack of maturity within people themselves (nurture) makes it hard for them to recognise that choice is available, whether or not there are "nature" things that control how well we can exercise that choice.

If that is so, I said, then we need to find ways of installing that maturity by the time kids leave the "responsibility zone" of their parents, for arguments sake 16, by giving them practice to make these kinds of difficult, constructive choices.

“Thats a hard job!” Sharon rightly reflected. “Instilling maturity before it’s ready is one of the hardest jobs as a parent. It’s called hope and pray for the light at the end of the tunnel."

Maybe. I think maturity, the quality, is nebulous indeed, but not necessarily necessary. There are skills and behaviours like recognising danger signs, considering options, calculating risk, thinking ahead and acting to create the best outcome that we can teach.

Sharon: “I think sometimes as parents and I know I am guilty of this from time to time it all gets too hard especially if we have had a hard day at work or traffic jams (not that that part affects me) or we are unwell ourselves. But that is another part of maturity and choices that ell us never ever ever give up on trying to create a better life for our children.

Sam: “The learning is huge, but I don't think that makes it any less real though. I only began to realise I had the right to make choices a couple years ago. Being told you have choices is meaningless when you don't live in that world (of knowing you have choices).”

Sharon and Sam are right – it is hard and it shouldn’t be left up to parents alone. Community, school, media, our political leaders – all and more have a part to play. And you can’t know you have choices if you’re told you don’t.

The reality, though, is that while we can't change the past and that's sad, we can start teaching children and adolescents they have choices right now (even just by having conversations with them) in order to avoid more hurt in the future.