“I’m not a fatalist; even if I were, what can I do about it?” – Emo Philips
In life it’s all too easy to blame others for what happened, to blame others for making us have to do things that we don’t like to do, to blame others for our failings. But is this really true? Do we really have no control over anything that we do?
I can think of many occasions where I’ve thought “it’s not my fault, somebody else may be do this” or “Somebody else make me think this way”. You’ve probably done the same yourself, many times throughout life! It’s someone else’s fault, they made me do this, they made me feel this way, they wouldn’t let it do what I wanted to do.
However, one of the most empowering things we can realise is that we always have a choice; whatever we do, whatever we say, however we react, it is always ultimately our choice. Now at first this can seem completely counterintuitive; after all if somebody is holding a gun to ahead, do we really have a choice? Well yes we do! We may not always like the choices that are open to us, but we always have a choice.
It isn’t always easy, and the consequences of making our choice can potentially be very unpleasant indeed in some circumstances, but we always have the choice; provided we are prepared to accept the consequences, we are free to make whatever choices we wish to make at any time.
I was doing some research into the Holocaust at one point, when I came upon a story which very powerfully illustrates this very point. There were two men both imprisoned in the same concentration camp. Conditions there were, as you might expect, utterly atrocious, horrendous, barbaric and inhumane in the extreme. One of the men realising the sheer horror of the situation in which he found himself, resigned himself to never getting out alive. He accepted that this was the end, the camp in which he was imprisoned was so barbaric, the condition so intolerable, that he saw absolutely no hope for survival whatsoever. Sure enough, over time as poor gentleman wasted away and died. The other man who had been imprisoned with him, however, saw things in a very different way. He very quickly decided that he had to survive. He decided that he would put up with what ever unimaginable horrors he was forced to suffer, because come what may he absolutely had to survive. He had to live long enough to eventually leave the camp, however far away that may be. He decided he had to live, he had to survive the camp, because when he finally left the camp he was going to make sure that the world heard all about it, that the world knew from his first-hand experience of everything that went on, so that perhaps his experience would help to ensure that this sort of barbaric atrocity would never ever happen again. And sure enough, despite the unimaginable in the inhumane, cruel and by Patrick treatment he received, he survived. He survived a concentration camp, he lived to see his freedom, and he dedicated the rest of his life to sharing his experiences with everyone who would listen, doing all he could to spread word of what had happened, to ensure that this sort of atrocity never happened again.
Both men endured exactly the same conditions. Both men faced exactly the same atrocious, barbaric treatment. Yet one man died, and the other man lived. One man chose to give up, the other chose to do what ever it would take to get through that situation and survive, come what may, because he knew he had to survive; he had a higher purpose, a reason to survive. They both face the same situation, they made a different choices.
We always have a choice in all situations, and nobody can force us to make a choice; the choice, ultimately, is always ours to make. The choice may not be easy, the consequences may be very severe indeed, but we always have a choice.
Suppose someone were to hold a gun to your head and demanded that you do something otherwise they would shoot you there and then. You might probably think that you don’t have any choice in the matter, you have to do what they say.
You always have a choice; you may not like the choice, the consequences may be very grave indeed, but you have that choice.
If the gunmen demanded that you hand over the keys to the safe, so that he could empty it of all its money, then it is almost certain that you would hand the keys over. On the other hand suppose you were in a position where you have the codes to enable the launch of your country’s nuclear missiles; now if the gunmen demanded that you hand over the codes so that he could annihilate the entire world population, would you hand the code is over? Quite probably not, even though you knew not handing over would result in your certain death – you would probably be willing to sacrifice your own life in order to save the lives of billions. In both of these examples the situation is the same; someone is holding a gun to your head, demanding that you do something, and telling you that they will kill you if you do not agree to their demands. The same situation but you have a choice. The choice you make will be different in both of those cases because the outcomes resulting from this choice is different but you always have a choice.
We all always have a choice – it may not be an easy choice to make, the consequences may be deeply unpleasant, but we always have a choice. We are free to make whatever choice we wish at any time, providing we are willing to accept the consequences.
Fortunately for us in our daily life, the choices that we face and the consequences that can arise are generally a lot less serious than this but still no less valid. For example have you ever woken up in the morning and thought “I wish I didn’t have to go into work today”? The reality of the situation is that you don’t have two going provided you’re prepared to accept the consequences. What would happen if you didn’t? Ultimately you could lose your job which will mean losing your income. Could you accept those consequences? If so, then you do have the choice to not going. On the other hand if those consequences are too severe for you to accept a new face another choice which is this – what can you do to change your situation put up with those consequences? could you adjust your living expenses so that you could survive without that income? Could you perhaps live off your savings whilst you trained for different profession, one which you found more enjoyable? Could you live off your savings, and perhaps the help of family and friends, whilst you even set up your own business doing what you love? These are all choices which you are free to make, providing you’re willing to accept and put up with the consequences.
Whatever situation we face in life, we always have a choice? It may not be an easy choice to make, but a choice it remains nonetheless!
And when we realise that, it can be one of the most empowering realisations we ever make.
Today, just for today, every time you face “having to do something”, just pause and ask yourself “Do I really want to do this? What other choices can I make? What are the consequences, and what would it take for me to accept those?”