We Always Have A Choice

Writing as I do has provided me with a mirror, a new sense of self, like a microscope into every pore of my being. Writing about love, about finding peace, about moral niceties and just role models essentially becomes a reflection on how I see these aspects of the world, and how I stack up against them. It is truly hard to type the words “We must not focus on good goals, but on good values, because those will set our goals”, and then go act in an immoral way. It is tough to say that in order to find love, we must be someone worthy of love, and then shun every opportunity of love that arises.

Essentially, these essays that I thought I was writing for others have become a sounding board, and a measuring stick for myself. They have essentially become a big, fluorescent light screaming: “You Always Have A Choice, Jason!”, and for this, for the opportunity to write these for myself, and for whoever may read them, I am forever grateful.

Before I turned to writing as a way of scratching the dead skin off of the scales that could shine, I had a lot of blame inside of me. I blamed the world for the rage that filled my veins, I blamed my parents for the bad habits that filled my time, and I blamed those who rejected me for the shame that filled my mind. I blamed the college town that I lived in for why I made poor decisions, stating that there was nothing I could do. I blamed the other partner for why I was always angry and had a poor relationship track record.

My vocabulary was filled with the phrases, “They made me…..” and “What was I supposed to do?” I know that I was not alone in this either. How many times have we heard ourselves or those close to use utter the excuse that, “You upset me” or “I fought because he pushed me”? How many times did we behave like an adolescent Jason and blame our behaviors, or feelings, and our thoughts on those around us? There are millions of examples of this: “I am sad because she broke up with me”, “I am mad because Trump won”, or “That lady at the cash register made me so angry!”.

Maybe, none of this is true. Maybe the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can free ourselves from the shackles of control that we allow everyone else to lock us in to. We are upset because we choose to get upset, we fought because we choose to fight. We feel sad because we are deciding to feel this way. Political elections has no power over our mind, we just give the situation power to make us feel certain ways. This is all a choice, and regardless of what you feel, you always have a choice in the matter. As Victor Frankl explained to us, there is a space between the stimulus (what the world does to you) and the response (how you feel or act). In that space lies all of the power, or, in this space, lies your choice to decide how you are going to respond.

Telling others and yourself that you had no choice is not true at all. There is a theory of relativism that believes that there are no just or unjust things in this world. There is nothing good or bad in and of itself. It is only when we put weight on those things that we decide that they are bad. William Shakespeare had Hamlet utter probably the best phrase of all time when he said, “There is no good or bad, just thinking makes it so.” If we put our preconceived notions of the world aside, and just think about this, there is nothing more true. Trump winning the election was not good or bad in itself, it was only good or bad depending on what you chose to believe (if it was good or bad in itself, then everyone would feel the same way about it). Ending a relationship is the same way, it is only good or bad in relation to how much weight we put on it, not good or bad in itself.

This is true for all us too. Anything that is stressing on you, or causing you to lose sleep can be put to this test. If a woman was diagnosed with cancer, but then re-evaluates her life and begins to live as a more just and kind person, was the cancer a bad thing? If an author was rejected several times, but the rejections showed them the flaws in their work, were the rejections a bad thing? The answer may very well be no, if we decide to select that answer. They are only bad things if we decide to see them as bad. This is such a freeing concept, that goes so far against the grain of everything we were ever thought, that it is hard to grasp. But imagine crafting a shield, a force field that was impenetrable to anything and everything that came to you. This is it.

This goes hand in hand with the Stoic dichotomy of control and desire. This is the subject of many journalings for Marcus Aurelius, when he tells himself that “The universe is transformation; our life is what our thoughts make it”, or “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” The line that may help us the most is where he wrote: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not sure to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

I turned to ignorance, and a blind eye to any truth that could help me. It was as if I willingly allowing the world, allowing situations that arose to put me in restraints, to handcuff me into a life where I watched everything happen to me, and then complained when nothing would go my way.

We fight this acceptance not because we can’t but because we do not want to. We want to have an out, an excuse as to why we haven’t been at our best. We want a fall back option. Because the realization that we have the power of control over our own minds is a truly scary realization, and one that leaves no wiggle room for blame on anyone but ourselves. We love to talk all about how much our job sucks, and how much we would love to leave it. We love to blame our situation on our parents, on the government, or on any other external entity, but the truth is, somewhere deep down, we know that this is on us. We know, even if we won’t accept it, that the choice to stay in a dead end job, the choice to continue working for a boss or a company that we hate is a choice that we, not anyone else, continue to influence a daily basis.

There is a thick line between what we control, and what we do not. Therefore that line separates what is our fault, and what is not. We control our thoughts and our actions, and nothing else. This small sliver of the world that lies in our power is the same sliver that falls on our shoulders. All we can control are our thoughts and our actions, and when those begin to go astray, it is always our fault. But, as those who begin to manifest control over this realm realize, this is all the control that we could ever need. Imagine if you thought and behaved in a way that would make you (and in turn, the world) the best you (and it) could possibly be. There would be no need, no room for any more control, because this is enough.

There are groups of people (think any political party, anarchist groups, etc) that believe the way to change, the path to betterment is through changing of the government, changing of our peers, dismantling the system. There are millions of people who believe they are shackled into their life because of predetermined aspects out of their control, or because of events out of a single person’s control (ask any college aged student how they feel about the government to learn this first hand). They put the meaning, the satisfaction of life in another’s hands, in events that they have no influence over.

I believe this happens for two reasons. First, on a surface level, we believe that these things truly do have power over us. We believe that Trump, or our coworkers, or a promotion, or a loss truly can provide us with a sense of joy, shame, etc. We are born into, what Dr. William Glasser calls an “external control society”, where we focus on attempting to control external things, and then feeling elated or broken in relation to the outcome. Initially, this is not our fault, as we are raised this way. We are told since birth that certain things are good or bad, and we should feel certain emotions in relation to them. We are told that we are gifted or stupid, praised based on an obsolete/unrealistic grading system. This idea of outside events controlling our minds is drilled into us since birth, so it makes sense why we initially feel this way.

Second, though, somewhere deep down we know that this system is detrimental to our peace and mental clarity. We understand how, when laid out into words, this makes no sense (you are upset because a random person you don’t know pulled in front of you on the way to work?). We understand that we should judge ourselves based on what Warren Buffett calls his “Inner Scorecard”, and not the scorecard that society makes for us. We know that our worth is not based off of an elementary school’s (or any level of school for that matter) system of grading that hardly takes into account different styles of learning. We know this, but we refuse to act on it.

We refuse because we understand what would occur if we did. We know that if we shift responsibility from external to internal, then damn…. The responsibility is on us. We can no longer blame politics, or our parents, or (insert scapegoat here) or our bad behaviors, our poor habits, and our cancerous mindset. Who wants that type of power? To know that how you behave and respond must first be approved by you, is a startling realization in a world of excuses and diffusion of responsibility. We know, deep inside, that the responsibility of life is ours, but we don’t want to accept it, so we push the blame on other people or events, because it is easier.

We always have a choice. Some things may feel so overwhelming; some things may happen to us that are completely out of our control, but the response is ours. Some circumstance may arise where we choose to fight, or stand up, and that is our choice (which, sometimes is a necessity. The issue is not choosing when and when not to fight, the issue is choosing not to take responsibility for that choice). There is always a choice. Accepting that, accepting that we do not have to get upset, angry, or resentful because something occurred (and if we do, then it is on us, not them), is a freeing but paralysing reality that brings a stark realization of responsibility onto us.