Tag Archives: choice

Choose Wisely

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rpmftns.com

Every day, we make choices. We make them based on the best knowledge we have at the time, based on the feelings in our hearts at a particular juncture, based on how we expect our lives to turn out. But life never – or, rarely – turns out the way you plan it, and so sometimes our choices turn out to be unexpectedly fantastic, and other times unimaginably bad. But still, we make them, because we must.

I don’t like to think I am my choices. I would rather think I shape my life than the other way around; I tell myself that I am in control. But is this true? Does a choice made in sorrow by a version of myself that I no longer recognise still hold sway over me to this day? A choice that had to be made – which was, despite everything, the best choice for its own, or any, moment – and which, in so many ways, was not a choice at all because its alternative was unthinkable. A choice that should have left no questions in its wake.

Faced with it right now, this moment, would I make the same decision? A million times, yes.

All the same, a strange dislocation occurs when you’re faced with your life the way it could have been, had you chosen differently. A doubling, a dizzying sense of unreality. An uncomfortable, sickening and vertiginous feeling. Even if you know the choices you made were right, still the call of the unwalked path is strong, for just that moment, that one window into an unlived life. Perhaps it shouldn’t be this way: there is no point to wondering ‘what if?’ And yet, it happens.

Are there multitudes of worlds in which versions of you are living the lives you could have had, each of them gazing up at their particular stars and dreaming about living the life you have? Perhaps. The life you have is a wished-for ideal, and it is good to remember that.

Maybe we fool ourselves that our choices mean anything at all. Perhaps there is only one way that things could ever be, and no matter what we choose we cannot escape it. Perhaps, in its own dark way, this is comforting. It may even be true that there is no such thing as ‘choosing wisely’; all we can do is do the best we can, given our particular circumstances in any given moment. The important thing is to choose, and not to regret – to trust yourself to make a choice and stick with it, and move on without looking back.

You know something?Maybe I should have slept a little better last night, so that I wouldn’t have woken up with a head full of fuzz this morning.

Huh?  image: 123rf.com

Huh?
image: 123rf.com

Go forth and grab Tuesday by the lapels, my friends, while I wait for my brain to re-engage.

Information Overload

Perhaps it’s just me, but lately my spam filters – on this blog, on my email accounts, everywhere – have been clogged to the brim with bad messages. I’m talking about the sort that want to sell me stakes in up-and-coming muscle maximiser companies, or property in the Czech Republic, or warning me that ‘dirty, funny videos!’ of me are available if I just ‘click a link!’, or ones which are just gibberish, words thrown together at random with a few links included for good measure.

I hate them.

Gaaaaaah! Image: devilindetails.webs.com

Gaaaaaah!
Image: devilindetails.webs.com

If there’s one thing I hate more than spam, though, it’s advertisements. That might sound strange – spam is, at best, illicit, and advertisements are a central plank of most economies – but there you have it. I’m a terror when watching the TV, because I usually insist on hitting the ‘mute’ button during ad breaks, and even at that, just looking at the silent images can often be enough to drive me into a fuming rage. I don’t really read magazines, probably because they’re usually 80% glossy images trying to sell me stuff I don’t want or need, and it’s the most irritating aspect of radio-listening, too. At least on the radio I can turn the sound down if a really annoying ad comes on, however. In this way, I do my best to avoid as many adverts as I can, but there are still too many.

A phrase I particularly loathe, and it’s one that has appeared on a huge amount of ads in the last year or so (and the number is growing!) is ‘up to 100%’ – as in ‘our new toothpaste, EnamelKiller, removes up to 100% of tooth plaque!’ or ‘this wonderful shampoo, freshly released on the market, promises to zap up to 100% of dandruff within four washes!’

Is it just me? Seriously? Does nobody else see the idiocy of saying ‘up to 100%’? It’s the most meaningless phrase in existence. It sets my (plaque-free!) teeth on edge because not only is it stupid, and a pointless waste of language, but it also speaks of the litigiousness of modern society. Nobody can claim that their shampoo or toothpaste or hair dye or whatever can provide ‘100%’ of anything, because that’s leaving the gate open for some dissatisfied customer somewhere to sue the manufacturer if they’re not entirely happy with the product’s performance. Instead, then, the ridiculous phrase ‘up to 100%’ – which says absolutely nothing – has to appear everywhere, driving pedants like me round the twist.

I also find it hard to cope with the amount of stuff in the world. You know what I mean – all the different types of everything, the seventy different brands of orange juice and the fourteen separate flavours of margarine and the sheer mountain of breakfast cereal you have to climb just to buy the one you want. I don’t want a grey and beige world where everything is exactly the same, but I wonder sometimes whether we’re just burying ourselves in excess, and calling it ‘choice’. This is before we even get to the idea of waste – it makes me profoundly uncomfortable every time I see an ad for air freshener, for instance. To me, it’s just chemical-laden gloop that you spray around your home environment, which is contained in a can or a plastic holder which will go into landfill once you’re finished poisoning everyone in your household. I’d just prefer to open a window, to be honest. Recently I saw an ad for shampoo which was very proud of the fact that over one million bottles of it had been sold in the UK alone, and all I could think of was ‘how many of those were recycled?’ and ‘do we really need another brand of shampoo? Aren’t they, under the fancy packaging, all the same?’

"Substance 1 vs. Substance 2! Which do you prefer?" "Ummm...." Image: fastfood.ocregister.com

“Substance 1 vs. Substance 2! Which do you prefer?” “Ummm….”
Image: fastfood.ocregister.com

There are some good ads, which are funny and arty and memorable – I particularly like the ones Guinness used to produce in the 90s – but usually they’re more of the same old blandness, making use of pretty people (usually women) to sell, sell, sell.

I don’t mean to sound like a total curmudgeon. I’m not going to tell a person what they can or cannot purchase, and as I said I don’t believe choice is a bad thing, in theory at least. I just can’t help sometimes feeling a little like we’ve given ourselves too much choice, which ends up paralysing us with the fear of making the ‘wrong’ choice. I usually stick to my old reliables – I’m pretty predictable when it comes to my purchases, and I’m definitely not a ‘follower of fashion’ or in any way interested in beauty products, besides the basics – and I tend to go shopping with blinkers on, just so I don’t get bamboozled by the piles of stuff everywhere.

The only aspect of the market to which my cynicism doesn’t apply, of course, is books. Let them pile high and give me as much choice as possible! When it comes to shampoo though, I can take it or leave it.

So. Am I alone in this? Or does anyone – anywhere! – see where I’m coming from?

Hope you’re all having a good Thursday. Oh, and while we’re at it – Happy Nelson Mandela Day. Make the best of it!

Choosing to Live

This morning’s offering is a response to a wonderful blog post, here, written by Susan Lanigan. In it, she discusses her reasons for choosing to live – not just continuing to live, but actually making the choice to live – despite the difficulties which this choice can bring. I’m very pleased that she asked me to share my thoughts on the topic, and I hope I can do her marvellous post justice.

sunrise

I’ll begin with a truism: life can be very hard. This nugget has been trotted out by generations of mothers and fathers in an attempt to comfort their tear-stained children when they reach the age at which they realise the world is not designed to fulfil their every wish; it is not comforting, but it is important to know. Life (or, rather, the choice to live) can, and probably will, be very hard for the majority of people, and life has been hard as long as human beings have existed. Every age has had its own particular struggles, which vary with the centuries, but they all have similar roots. I think, despite the differences in technology, lifestyle, beliefs, language and law that separate us from our ancestors, that people are people – we don’t change much, down through the years. The things which occupy our minds and the fears that bedevil us – mortality, sexuality, money, power – are things which they were all too familiar with, too. I’m not sure it’s true that earlier ages didn’t have time for introspection, or that they were too busy working themselves to an early death to worry about things like self-actualisation and individual significance; I think every age has sought meaning in its own existence, and has produced art which has reflected upon the world which created it. We are no exception – we just have wider access to the tools of creativity, and our record of our own existence is a bit more durable than that of earlier generations. In times gone by, only the chosen few had the opportunity to record their thoughts about the world around them. Sometimes I mourn for all the words and stories we’ve lost, and for all the wisdom that has returned to the earth along with the person who laboured hard to gain it.

I live in a complex world, in a struggling country. I have a body and a brain which sometimes conspire against me, and I know how it feels to fight with your own thoughts, to battle out from underneath your own darkness of mind. I have been in the pit of what my medieval friends used to call ‘wanhope’ – in other words, despair. Allowing yourself to wallow in wanhope was seen as a sin in the Middle Ages, because it did not allow for the grace of God; falling into it was one thing, but allowing yourself to remain there was tantamount to giving up hope in the all-powerful love of God. It was like committing treason against your greatest and most powerful liege-lord. You were cutting off the possibility of being rescued, of being helped, and you were refusing to allow yourself to be loved by God – and, I suppose, by anyone else. The medieval mind saw it as imposing a limit on the power of God’s love and compassion (which, of course, would be sinful human hubris), but a modern mind might recognise the feeling, too. Divorced from its religious framework, it sounds a lot like the struggle most of us have to face at some point in our life – the feeling that we are alone, that we’re unconnected to anything else, that nobody loves us and our existence, or lack of it, makes no difference to the grand scheme of things. It sounds so terrible that it’s hard to imagine why anyone would allow themselves to fall into it, but it’s actually not that difficult. The road to the pit of wanhope has been walked by so many feet that the stones which pave it have been worn smooth, and it’s a road from which so many people find it impossible to come back. Sadly, I wonder if the road to Wanhope is busier now than it has ever been.

So, why do I choose to live? The word ‘choose’ is so important – nobody can make you live. You were brought into existence, sure – but nobody can force you to live. The choice is yours. It might seem obvious – it might not seem like a choice at all, perhaps – but it’s there, and it’s one which we need to make on a regular basis. Why do I choose, every day, to avoid the road to despair and choose the harder, rockier, narrower path that is life? I choose to live because I want to make a difference in the world. I want to be part of that durable human record – I want my choice to mean something, and I don’t want my hard-earned wisdom to die with me. I choose to live because I was brought into the world through love, and I have been lucky enough to know love every day of my life. I choose to live because I want to amplify the love I have been given, and return it tenfold to those who love me, and to others who might need love and compassion more than they need anything else. I choose to live because it’s a challenge, and I’m the sort of pig-headed person who hates to give up on a fight. I choose to live because I believe I’m here to do something – perhaps, many somethings. I choose to live because I don’t know what I’m here to do, and I don’t know when I’ll be called upon to do it. How can I choose the other path, the one that leads towards the dark, when, for all I know, tomorrow is the day when my great purpose will be revealed? How do I know that my very existence – something I might say, or do, or write – is already fulfilling that greater purpose? I choose to live because my choice might help someone else. I choose to live because I am important, as you are important; my choice might help someone else to keep walking that hard road, and I choose to live because everyone who makes that choice means more hands to help those who might stumble, and more encouraging smiles to light the paths of those who are struggling.

I’ve walked a while on both roads, the smooth lower road that feels so familiar underfoot, and the rocky higher path that goes on into the unknown. The smooth road has no turnings. Its destination is clear. But the rocky path has many switchbacks and changes of direction – every day on it is a surprise, and every corner turned brings something new. I choose to live because I want to know what’s around the next bend, no matter what it is. I choose to live because I’ve struggled out of the pit, and back up that smooth and well-worn path, and I’ll be damned if I’m throwing away all that effort.

I choose to live out of stubbornness, and I hope my rocky path is a long and twisting one.