The Agonising Luxury of Choice

I’m torn. On the one hand, there’s the invite to the anniversary dinner, a rare opportunity for us to go out together, leave the baby at home, get glammed up and have fun. On the other, there’s the anniversary dinner. The one that’s 300 miles away, involves complicated arrangements, a late night and therefore painful next day, lots of expense, and let’s face it, we don’t really know them all that well anyway. We hardly see each other anymore – wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice quiet weekend at home?

I have agonised over this for weeks. We are now at the point where, in an effort to keep our options open, we’ve annoyed the couple whose celebration it is by not RSVPing on time, the people who’ve offered us a spare bedroom and even shared babysitting arrangements by not confirming, and each other by being useless and indecisive. And why? Because we are very bad at making decisions, and worry our choices will offend or inconvenience others.

The truth is, one’s actions rarely offend of inconvenience anyone as much as one’s lack of action will do. The couple will understand that it’s a long way, and complicated with babysitting, the friends who’ve offered us accommodation will understand that it’s a long way to come and we don’t want to put them out. If we’d just said up front what we were doing, everyone would be happy. Instead, with two weeks to go, everyone is annoyed and stressed about it. And that is, sadly, absolutely normal behaviour for me.

I’m one of those people who always wants to keep everyone else happy. I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like letting people down and don’t like to appear selfish. However, I have come to the realisation over the years that selfish people often end up causing less trouble than the wannabe peacemakers like me. They state their position, and generally stick to it. Everyone else either accommodates them, works around them, or leaves them alone. They, for their part, do not then agonise over said decision for weeks afterwards, working through every connotation of their chosen route and how it affects others, nor do they painfully dissect every ensuing conversation looking for hidden resentments in the e-mails and voices of our friends.

Choice is a powerful thing. In our relatively civilised society, we are often overwhelmed by choice – from 63 types of coffee in your average Starbucks to entertainment, career prospects, even sexuality and partners – the world is our oyster and it’s rare we genuinely have no choice open to us. We have so much choice in our lives in fact that we are often heard to bewail it, complaining that we have to make too many decisions in a day. So when was it we started taking this incredible freedom for granted?

Some years ago I took part in a work training course. You know the type, several people sitting around a large table strewn with motivational aids, expensive mineral water and hotel branded notebooks and pens. It was called the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you haven’t done this course, round about now you’ll be sighing and rolling your eyes at the “management-ness” of it all, the American soul-searching corniness of it that sits ill at ease with our more cynical outlook. Those of you who have done it might be thinking slightly differently. Admittedly, much of the course passed me by, condemned to the purgatory of my highly selective memory. But a few things stuck with me, and the thing that has helped me the most in my life since was this: make choices. Realise that the situation you are in is usually of your own making, you have made the choices that have brought you here, and accept the repercussions of those choices. Don’t be a victim.

There really are very few things in our privileged Western lives that are truly outside our control. Things that we have absolutely no influence on. Even if that factor is simply our own attitude towards a situation, if you really think about whatever situation you are in, it’s rarely come about with absolutely no input from us. That doesn’t mean that life is fair – we all know it won’t always be, and that bad things happen. Redundancies, accidents, deaths, criminal acts – these things all happen, and are often outside our control. But how we respond to them is, for the most part, entirely within our control.

I began to test the theory in my every day life. I had been moaning about a weekly meeting that took up three hours every Thursday without apparent point, but had never done anything about it. I asked around, gathered other viewpoints, and sat down with the meeting organiser to discuss it and redefine the purpose of the meeting. He ended up changing the structure and agenda, made it bi-weekly, and half the length. A small victory, but it got me thinking.

In my job there were a lot of evening dos, often late running events that involved lots of alcohol and cabs back home in the wee hours, where I tried my best not to wake my husband on my return. I was often heard to moan about the frequency of these events, and regularly irritated my husband by saying things like “Sorry, I’ve got to go to another work do, I won’t be back late though, but can’t get out of it.” As though somehow I thought that acting unenthusiastically about my rather fun job would make him happier about me never being at home. He often got annoyed about this attitude, so I tried my new theory out on him. “There’s a work do I’ve chosen to go to,” I said. “It’ll probably be a late one, sound like fun though. I’ll try not to wake up when I get in.” I waited for the hostility to emerge. “Cool,” he replied, “Have a lovely time.”

OK, these are trivial examples. But taking responsibility for your own actions, your own situation, and accepting that the choice you make will have consequences is an important step in being happy in your own skin. If you are constantly blaming your situation on other people, or moaning that you never have a choice in what you are doing then stop, and think it through. Being a martyr and sacrificing your choices in life is a choice in itself – so don’t take it out on other people if that’s who you’ve decided to be. We have the considerable luxury of too much choice in this country – let’s not waste it.

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~ by DelightingintheDetail on May 9, 2010.

3 Responses to “The Agonising Luxury of Choice”

  1. So, did you go in the end? Or not? It’s difficult, I think you lose all enthusiasm for these sorts of things when kids come along. I think you worry about them more than anything.

    Great blog. You put me to shame.

  2. Thanks for the loyal comments! Very touched. And no, we didn’t go… hopefully we haven’t offended the people involved too badly!

  3. When we talk about choice from the Metaphysical view point we are talking about conscious or unconscious response or reaction to our life’s experience. How we choose to see the positive value of the experience or to feel that we are a victim to experience is the spiritual purpose of our life. Not the choice of what to eat or wear, the choice of understanding the positive value of our life is the spiritual challenge. The value is in everything, we need to look for it or we may not find it. Thats the real choice.

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