Choosing Not To Choose
Is A Choice
“Choice” has been relevant to every person in every era and is part of everyone’s daily life. You can’t get out of bed in the morning without making choices.
Life’s pathway is not pre-scripted. Moving from start to finish involves many electives and the ultimate outcome for each person is the sum of those choices.
Unfortunately, choice-making isn’t fun and games. The difficulties associated with the exercise was illustrated best in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech and every major philosopher has added their two cents as well. Clever sayings abound.
Choices are the hinges of destiny.
Attributed to both Edwin Markham and Pythagoras
Hindsight is 20/20
And choices come in all shapes and sizes: easy, obvious, hard, intentional, blind, well thought out and so on.
You really can’t escape it. You can ignore the issue but that requires a choice, a poor one. You can choose to rely on “chance” or live “under” the circumstances but that is like choosing not to choose.
“Choice” is an essential part of human nature and history shows that it cannot be bound. Humans go places, do things, learn through experience, expand their understanding, overcome obstacles and become qualified, and all of this growth is fueled by choice. One way or another humans will exercise their abilities to choose.
Unquestioned Authority Opposed
“Choice” is the reason the Protestant Reformation came about. People refused to accept what they were told without explanation or obey bastions of authority unquestioningly. Trading our ability to reason for blind compliance is a choice human nature doesn’t easily swallow.
During the reformation the idea that authority was right simply because it was authority was rejected. Society came to realize that no one has the right to think, believe or understand for the rest of us and they chose to protest.
The Modernist and Post Modern eras began in the mid 19th century and are characterized by the tendency to question traditional ideas in every form: religion, politics, art, and on every level. No ideas are considered sacred.
The individual became more significant and personal taste, feelings, perspectives or inclinations became dominant factors in the choices we made. The democratic approach in the extreme.
“Individualism,” the ultra antithesis of tradition, does more than just question tradition. It endorses and encourages unbounded free thinking. Now we attempt to move the boundaries to accommodate whatever choices a person happens to make.
The fixed values of tradition are no longer accepted only because “it has always been done that way.” Everything is subject to individual inspection.
But the question is: just because authority and tradition are no longer seen as guiding lights must all the choices they recommend also be recategorized?
Because authority figures couldn’t give reasonable explanations or didn’t allow for individual tastes does that mean the choices they recommended were wrong?
Should we throw out recommended choices or would it be better to vigorously investigate the reasons behind these choices?
Take, for example, the issue of sex. It used to be that just the discussion about sex, other than for medical purposes, was shameful and the inferred understanding was the act itself was questionable.
Even when general discussions became more acceptable, casual sex was still condemned as wrong. Then it reached the stage where casual encounters became accepted. Now, however, it is expected, which means, of course, that it is no longer a choice.
We went from having no choices about sex, for no explainable reason at all, to having different but still fixed choices about sex because public opinion said it was expected. Tradition and authority were traded for public opinion but nothing really changed where choice was concerned.
In the one situation we couldn’t have sex. In the other we couldn’t avoid it. Who’s right? Fortunately, because humans can learn from experience, reason is prevailing.
Practical considerations such as unwanted emotional connections, unexpected children, unprepared for children, the lack of personal fulfillment and even disease put a break on the anytime-anywhere-anyone-on-demand approach to sex.
The bottom line is, even if you don’t respect authority figures and the answers they give or you’re sick of tradition and you believe individual choice is important, you shouldn’t accept or reject any choice before you’ve seriously thought through the issues.
There is no such thing as unrestricted choice. “Consequence” and “choice” are siamese twins and the free and thoughtless exercise of your liberty does nothing to separate them.
Thinking carefully before you decide is a choice and one that is generally respected by all.
But individualism, though it has its good points, has its weaknesses also. It is a philosophy that teaches us to “take care of number one first.” Obviously, number one for me is “me” and number one for you is “you.”
There are places and times when that approach is smart. Airlines tell people all the time that should conditions require the use of oxygen masks, each person should put their own mask on first before attempting to help anyone else.
Individualism, however, went beyond a healthy approach to meeting one’s personal needs. It began encouraging us to add new and diverse options to the list, deciding whether something is right or wrong for ourselves irrespective of anyone else.
That is how the thinking goes but that is not an accurate representation of the facts.
I would suggest that the idea of “unrestricted choice” is far less adventurous than we are led to believe. It is more a romantic day dream, the realities of which aren’t easy to stomach.
Examples Proving Choice Comes With Restrictions
Many of our selections should be determined more by personal needs and the way we were designed than by experimenting with choice.
You might choose the particular foods you eat but no one, for example, chooses to need food.
You might choose to refuse food but you cannot choose not to need it. If you don’t eat you will die very soon and get very sick before you do. You can refuse to eat but you can’t choose to live without doing so.
And if you are an “eater” (every living organism qualifies as one) you have not always, in the genuine sense of the word, chosen the food you ate. You, like me and most others, probably ate what was available or affordable and that might not always represent your first choice.
You might have chosen the clothes you wear but you didn’t choose “clothes wearing” as culturally acceptable. In most cases it is illegal to parade around without clothes and we can be grateful it is. Some of us are visually offensive fully dressed and even more unsightly when not.
You might have chosen the particular brand of car you drive but you didn’t personally choose automobiles as your primary means of transport. Other people made that decision and weren’t interested to know how you felt about it.
You might have chosen the particular house in which you live but you didn’t choose house dwelling as your primary means of habitation.
You might choose to love your birth country but you didn’t choose it as your place of birth. And if it isn’t the place you wish to live you might not have a choice to go elsewhere. Your options are not always open.
You might choose to be the best of what you can be but you cannot choose to be what you are not.
All the choices we do make are not completely without limits. We wear the colthes we can afford. We drive the cars we are able to pay for and we buy the houses our budgets will allow. Unrestricted choice is really just a pipe dream.
If you chose to buy a house above your means, the bank would choose not to give you a loan, which means the choices one person can make is often determined by others.
I haven’t noticed many Mazerottis, Lambourginis, Ferraris or Porches in most public parking areas. If everyone chose only what they wanted wouldn’t those cars and others like them be well represented?
People don’t choose the person they marry. You may have chosen to marry the person to whom you are married but that is different to deliberately choosing that particular person instead of all others.
No one makes an absolute choice unless they have carefully eliminated all other possible choices before making a final decision. People marry whoever happens to be in the way and sometimes become disenchanted later.
I am not suggesting we shouldn’t be selective but even on our best days the selection process can never be entirely thorough.
If we were really free to make our own choices I am sure large numbers of individuals would be living in a palace surrounded by servants. And in a perfect world where absolute choice reigns the servants would choose to serve.
The truth is, we are not free to make unrestricted choices and the choices we are free to make we don’t always appreciate.
- We can choose to be thankful for the food we have even when it isn’t what we want.
- We can choose to be grateful for the transportation we have even when it is rusty and has lost its luster. We could also choose to take better care of it.
- We can choose to be in control of our finances even when our finances don’t allow us all the luxuries we might wish.
- We can choose to love the person we married after we discover the blemishes that weren’t apparent on the day we married – within reason, of course.
- We can choose to make the most of the job we have until we can qualify for the job we prefer.
All of these are legitimate, character building, life changing choices. These are the real choices we make. These represent responsible, moral, realistic and disciplined choices and we should be grateful that God has given us the liberty to make them.
This post is about unrestricted choice. Do not confuse the choices we make with the choices we wish we could make. Do not be distracted by options which are not true choices. Don’t be mesmerized by popular suggestions that somehow you can do anything you like and be happy doing so.
You can operate outside proper “choice” boundaries but that is not the same as moving the boundary or changing the consequences for transgressing. We have the freedom to make bad choices, we don’t have the power to make bad choices legitimate.
There is another choice which I haven’t mentioned. One that every person will make and that is, we can choose to believe in God and love Him or disbelieve in God and disregard Him but that won’t make Him disappear or go away.
But, not too worry. Whatever your choice God will not react negatively.
In fact, the biggest differences between God and every other philosopher are:
One, God doesn’t take it personal when you don’t at first see His point. He knows that we don’t easily get it and understands our tendency to experiment with the data.
In some ways He even encourages this tendency. How can we learn fully if we don’t try and fail. God does not want us to be spectators or robots.
Another way in which God differs from all others is the fact that He will be there when things fall apart. He expects a few bruises along the way and allows for, even plans for, recovery. The only failure God doesn’t have an answer for is your or my refusal to admit failure.
It’s like being alcoholic. You can’t address the problem if you don’t first admit it.
Being all-knowing God is never fooled by philosophical error. He always has the right answer but He doesn’t pronounce judgment on our failure. He sees it as an opportunity for learning and growth and encourages it.
So, if you’ve made bad choices, join the crowd. We’ve all done it.
If you are still wishing for choices you can’t possibly live up to, get real. If you aren’t sure what that looks like, watch the singing trials on The X-Factor or Idols.
Once you’ve tried and failed enough, choose God. He’s always there and He’s always waiting. And remember, worship isn’t a choice. Who or what you worship is.