“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” ~ Mae West
* * *
Choices. They’re made every day, by everyone. Kids are forced with choices more than they like to admit: to do or not to do homework; appease hunger with a healthy snack or eat junk; go to bed on time or stay up late reading. Mrs. Dirt (that would be me) chooses to work in the garden over paying thousands for use of a gym or country club facility.
Yesterday, I chose to enjoy my crappy-but-quiet kitchen with Houston’s public radio playing in the background, John Lienhard of University of Houston’s Engines of Our Ingenuity enlightening me once again with a thoughtful, educational piece. I Didn’t Have a Choice struck a particular chord, though I really don’t miss any of his daily segments; they’re just that good. (Here. Have a listen rather than read the transcript. You’ll see why.) Nodding enthusiastically, I immediately began thinking of all the friends, family (the mirror?) using that phrase when stuck in a situation.
It’s Hard Sometimes. Some choices are hard to make. Abstaining from meat by-products goes against the taste and emotion trained and inextricably tied together by decades of habit (millenia in evolution terms), the choice for some boiling down to one of two evils. We eat meat because we’ve always eaten meat, we need protein, and cavemen did it, is indeed a choice, I’ll concede. Ask yourself: What does that do for world hunger? Water shortages? Pollution? Consider President Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University, 50 years ago today in fact. We choose because it is hard. The rewards are well worth the costs of the hard choices made to get there.
Doing Nothing. All choices take thought and planning, some little, some considerable. Even no choice (a/k/a/ doing nothing at all) is the choice which requires the least thought and action, left to chance or external inputs rather than being even slightly under your control. The result is a crap shoot. It is generally understood to be the the worst choice in a given situation.
Arm Chair Brigade. Other situations call for doing nothing at all, being tied up, so-to-speak. The “evil” of choosing one crappy politician over another (neither of whom you like, both of whom you think will ruin the office) causes millions to stay home on Election Day, but what does that accomplish? Showing up at the polls, actively not checking either candidate may seem the same, but that vote gets counted. An under-vote speaks volumes when its percentages (in relation to overall turnout) are high. (So get out of your chair and vote.)
I’ll Take That One, Please. Sure, go ahead, make the easiest choices all the time, but don’t expect to share the prize of success when you do. In some ways, it’s the ability to make tough choices that ultimately determines a person’s fate. Think of all the Have-Not’s who have broken out of poverty against all odds, conversely of all the Have’s who settle into their parent’s basement, non-contributing zeros in every way. It’s just easier to take what is given, when consequences are borne by others, than to think about the consequences that might be brought unto you.
Me? I want the kids to move out one day. Really. So we practice making choices today, while we’re young, while failures are small and manageable. Because choices sometimes result in failure – sometimes a lot. But that’s okay. At the risk of sounding like my mother:
“Taking the easy path is okay with menial, deliberate tasks, where you don’t want to re-invent the wheel. Remember that the easy path is paved for a reason: it’s the path everyone else wants to take, too. Distinguish yourself.”
Failure is an Option. When status quo is not working very well, status quo (doing nothing) shouldn’t be an option. Choosing change means tough choices now, down the road, but as parents, we encourage our children and model decision-making for the best potential for success, whatever we deem that to be at the time. At DirtNKids, celebration with cake and
ice cream sherbert follows after a hard-fought choice, because successes and failures are treated alike. At least you gave it your best.
“Options open up only when we refuse to accept what’s obvious.”
Thank you, Mr. Lienhard, we hear you loud and clear.