Choices

Choices, the choices we make change the story of our lives.

This was the subject of the writing challenge given to us by Glad at the end of last meeting.

My choice to go to Ikea after the meeting was not a good one, and I should have realised that. First, I knew that it is almost impossible to go to Ikea, walk in, pick up the one thing you need, pay for it and walk out again. Ikea is not built like that. Second, I don’t think I have ever before been there on a Saturday afternoon, and I shan’t be doing that again in this lifetime.

I had no idea how busy it would be, filled in the main with couples with small children, dawdling along as if wading through treacle. After I had walked three times through the entire store looking for what I wanted, found it, and made my way to the exit, there was a queue of four or five people at every check out.

One positive aspect of the whole exercise was that the drive gave me plenty of time to think, and by the time I got home I had planned much of my article in my head.

The premise seems self-evident, but it’s not that simple. True, some of the choices we make are life-changing, but many are not. Or are they? Albert Camus said ’Life is a sum of all your choices’. Every decision or choice you make has an impact on your life, and often on the lives of the people around you.

Some of these impacts are small. Your choice whether to have cereal or toast for breakfast may not have much long term impact on your life, or on your family. Of course, if you ate bacon and egg for breakfast every day instead of a healthier option, it could shorten your life and devastate your family.

Other choices have more obvious long term effects. Where to live, who to marry, whether or not to have children, these are in every respect life altering decisions. If you make the wrong choice of breakfast cereal, you get to have another go the next day. It’s a little harder to have another go at marriage or a career.

We all make myriad choices every day. Small children learn to do so, and it’s an important part of bringing up children to let them practice. Let them choose which clothes to wear, or which toys to play with, so that the result of making a less than perfect choice is not too difficult to deal with. This is how they learn to make more important choices as they grow up.

Adolescents can be notoriously bad at decision making, as their brains are not sufficiently developed. They don’t have the ability to look into the future and see the possible implications of their choice, and they also tend to be heavily influenced by their peers, who by definition are also poorly equipped. With luck most teenagers get through this stage without permanent damage, apart from the odd tattoo or piercing which they may come to regret. It’s probably hard to be taken seriously as a lawyer if you have ‘Hate’ tattooed across the knuckles of one hand and ‘Love’ across the other.

It’s not only adolescents who are influenced by their peers, although generally as we get older the influence is less. There are other factors which affect the choices we make as adults. In fact, you could say that every choice we make influences the choices which follow, since the choices change our lives and mould us as people. It’s chicken and egg.

People in prison, or other institutions, have many of their decisions made for them, and this can lead them to be unable to decide things for themselves when they return to the community. Some prisoners will commit further crimes soon after release in order to be sent back to prison, since they find life there easier than on the outside, where they have to make their own decisions.

There are also mental conditions such as depression which can lead people to make bad choices in all sorts of ways. It’s easy to look at somebody who has made a bad choice, and is now diagnosed with depression, and imagine that the bad choice caused the depression. In reality it’s generally the other way round, the bad choice was made because of undiagnosed depression.

There are many ways of making decisions, or choices, and much research has been done into the subject. There are also many self-help books and gurus who will tell you how to do it. Methods range from setting out the pros and cons, and making a considered choice, to listening to your gut feeling, to a method called flipism, which is flipping a coin, or cutting cards. Some choices we make without thinking about them, because experience tells us that what we decided last time we were faced with a similar situation worked, so we just do the same again.

Whatever the situation, our previous experience is bound to influence the choices we make, just as the choices we make influence our future. So, not only do the choices we make change the story of our lives, but the story of our lives changes the choices we make.

 

Julie Livingstone

March 2012

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