I hear people saying things like ‘I don’t have a choice in the matter’ or ‘I have no choice but to do X’. It might be my literal thinking but I’m pretty sure those statements are wrong. I think what they really mean is that they don’t like the choices or there are no choices they are happy with.
There aren’t many situations that we don’t have a choice in what we do or how we respond. Things like never dying or living without breathing etc, we definitely don’t have a choice in. What we do have a choice in though is how we respond to those scenarios. We can be miserable about the fact that we can’t live forever or we can accept that and try to live our lives the best we can. We do have a choice there.
So when I hear people saying they have no choice but to go to school/work, no choice but to eat healthily, no choice but to ‘put up with’ their family/friends/boss etc, it makes me a little annoyed. They do have a choice, everybody has a choice. Just because the options are rubbish doesn’t stop them from being a choice.
Some people might argue that having two bad choices doesn’t qualify as having a choice. Some might say that having one good option and one bad option isn’t a choice because it’s obvious which option they will choose, for them it feels like the choice has already been made for them or that there isn’t really any option but the obvious choice. Whilst I can understand these perceptions I disagree. It might seem small or useless, but having that choice is actually important. It’s just not easy to understand.
Take the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. The man was told he was to be fed to the lions, as he was taken towards it he realised he had a choice, walk into the lion’s den with his head held high or be dragged in kicking and screaming. Most people might think that this isn’t a choice, he was going to be fed to the lion’s no matter what he did, but other’s will realise the significance of this story. Daniel did have a choice, he realised he was going to die no matter what he did, but he realised he had the choice of whether that happened on his terms or not.
Similarly, we have the choice of how we perceive situations, how we react to events, how we respond to our emotions etc. We can’t always choose whether something’s going to happen to us, life unfortunately doesn’t work like that. Car crashes, new friends, accidents, job proposals, the weather, natural disasters, illness, other people’s actions, our emotions, what food is available in the supermarket etc etc, there are so many things we cannot control and have no choice in. We can, however, choose how we react to these things or we can choose whether we agree with our reactions (as we don’t always have control over our reactions, it’s a learnt process that takes years of practise and self-discovery/understanding). We can choose whether we try to control our reactions or not.
An example: I had a bad upbringing. I didn’t have a choice in the way people treated me. I did (at the time) have a choice in how I reacted to them, however, as a child I didn’t realise this and had no self-control or understanding of how I could have reacted differently. Some would say I had no choice but I did, I just didn’t know it. Not knowing we have a choice doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice, it means we don’t know. A few years ago I came to the realisation that I might not have had a choice in the way I was treated, I might not have used my choice back then to change my reactions but I do have a choice in the present in how I respond to those events now. I chose to not let it bother me anymore. I choose to accept what had happened and move on from it. So I did. Not everyone realises this choice, not everyone has the skills to make this choice. They still have that choice but they don’t have the ability to make that choice. They can learn, they can get help, they can choose not to choose. Some might say not being able to choose means not having a choice, that’s not true. They have a choice, they are unable to choose to make that choice. Like a fish in a bowl that’s just been given food, it has a choice to eat that food but if it cannot see the food it won’t know the food exists so it can’t make the choice. The choice is still there, it just cannot utilise it at that moment in time.
Every second of every day we are given choices, we don’t always recognise those choices but they are still there. They will either continue to be there, waiting for us to see them or they will disappear. It would be impossible for us to see every choice available to us, but if we try, we can maybe see most of them.
I’m in no way saying this is easy though, it’s probably one of the hardest things to do; recognise that we do have a choice even in the most dire of situations and to implement our choice.
But when people complain that they have no choice but to work, well actually you do have a choice. The choice might be between not getting enough money to pay the bills and potentially going hungry or not, but it’s still a choice, you choose not to go hungry by going to work. When kids complain that they have no choice but to go to school, yeah you do, the choice is go to school and keep your family and teachers happy, and maybe learn something, or don’t go and maybe be punished.
‘I have no choice but to eat’ – be hungry or not be hungry.
‘I have no choice but to walk to work’ – walk to work or don’t go to work.
‘I have no choice but go to the doctor’ – go and get help and get better or don’t go and stay ill.
‘I only have enough money to either pay the rent or buy food, that’s no choice’ – pay the rent and be hungry or buy food and miss the rent and risk being kicked out of the house.
Yes the options can be awful, horrible even, think ‘Sophie’s choice’. They might not be options you want to choose from, but in the end they are still a choice. We still get to choose, even if the choice is between death and death. How it matters is up to you. ‘Would you prefer to die by drowning or by burning?’, yes the options are crap. I choose to not choose.