The notion of choice is something I’ve been wrestling with for over 20 years, especially after reading several books on the matter and also taking a number of ‘personal growth’ courses. The legal battle that we are still engaged in with the District of Lantzville has presented yet more challenges as to whether or not my experience as a human being is dictated by threatening letters from the District and by threats hurled at us by our neighbour, or is my experience dictated by me? It is said that life is 10% what happens and 90% what you make of it.
In the last few years, I have increasingly paid attention to our language and how the notion of non-choice is a part of our culture through the way we think, write and speak. Small examples include our attitudes toward the weather (something that Canadians are very fond of talking about), “It’s miserable out there today!”. Really? Stronger examples include things like “I can never forgive him/her for what they did to me,” or “I can’t help how I feel.”
A number of years ago it was painful for me to watch a video clip on the internet showing the parents of Rena Virk (who was murdered in Victoria by her teenage peers) saying, “We will never get over this; it will haunt us for the rest of our lives.” Please understand, I am not saying that they ‘should’ be expected to ‘get over it.’ What I am saying is that it is dangerous to pre-decide as to how you will feel about something 10, 20 or 30 years from now.
Last week, I read about an ‘honour killing’ in the lower mainland of a woman by her father. The media’s language was “He did it because she scandalized her family by marrying a lowly rickshaw driver.” Really? Think about it. This woman simply married someone she had strong feelings of love towards. The ‘scandal’ was not ‘caused’ by her—it was ‘caused’ by her family, who hold strong cultural beliefs around class and marriage.
A more personal example, is when now ex-mayor Colin Haime said, “We have no choice but to proceed with legal action” [against Compassion Farm]. Really? The Municipal charter, as handed down by the Province of BC, clearly states that a municipality has no obligation to enforce its bylaws.
Two of the most common examples are “I can’t help it,” and “She/he/that makes me angry.” I understand that is how it feels at the time, however it’s simply not true–it’s fundamentally flawed thinking. We can choose how we respond to external stimuli.
I used to get very upset when we had to wait a sailing at the ferry terminal. A few years ago, I completely changed my mind to seeing it as an opportunity to spend quality time with my significant other; to walk the lines of cars and look at the different people, license plates, boats; or to spend time reading. So now something that used to ‘ruin’ my day, I now see as an opportunity. I feel sad and give my friends a hard time when they say, “I hate the ferry ride, it’s so slow and long and boring.” Really? When we go on the ferry, I am so excited the night before that I can barely sleep! I see it as a total adventure. I spend a lot of time outside on deck, looking for whales, porpoises, seals, eagles—you name it. If I get too cold, I peruse the gift shop and glance at the ridiculous number of titles now available on the magazine rack. My all time favourite is wandering the ferry to see how many people I recognize and then try to remember where I recognize them from. Sometimes I run into someone I’m very close with but have not seen for years.
The notion of choice, or non-choice as it were, runs very deep in our western psyche. It stems from ancient superstitions, going back beyond the Greeks and their beliefs in the gods and further yet even to Cro-Magnon, who researchers believe killed off the Neanderthals (probably thinking they had no choice!). In more modern times, our way of thinking stems from our Judeo-Christian orientation. All of these different systems subscribe to the concept of ‘external forces’. This understanding of ourselves remains deeply entrenched in our language and colloquialisms. Most of us grew up with sayings like, “The devil made me do it,” “The devil finds work for idle hands,” “It’s God’s will.”
Relationships are another area where our way of thinking is revealed in expressions like, “Some day, you will find someone who will make you happy.” This is not just an expression, it is an idea that infers several things, such as, you are not currently happy; you cannot—and will not—be happy until someone ‘sweeps you off your feet’ and gives you the things that will ‘make you feel’ in a way that you are not capable of feeling on your own. This is especially true if you believe that in marriage that you are a half, looking for your other half rather than you are a whole human being wanting to join forces and share resources with another whole human being.
Every day I hear people say “I can’t,” and “I have no choice.” Really? Did you know that over 85% of Canadians are not happy in their jobs? Why is that? It seems that most of us do not choose our occupation and/or line of work and/or place of work, and/or boss, colleagues etc. Why is that? I believe it is because most of us have very little grasp around the power of choice. And because we don’t, we choose to stay in relationships, jobs and other environments that not only ‘make us’ unhappy, they are even fundamentally destructive for our well being. What would the world be like if more of us understood that we have choice—that we can actually choose? How many more people would there be around us who are at least less unhappy?
How about you and I, right now, take stock of our lives, looking at it through the lens of personal choice? In what areas of your life have you felt stuck, or even like a victim? What areas of your life are there where you can, right now, either change your environment or at least change how you think and view it? Would you rather just continue on hoping things will change for the better—wait for retirement; wait for death—or would you rather see life as a grand play where you are the star on centre stage in the spotlight, and you alone, decide how you want your life to play out?
If you are interested in grasping this concept further, a simple search on the internet using the words ‘power of choice’ will bring up a Wikipedia link that affords one the opportunity to delve into this concept further and begin more diligently applying it. Please send us a letter sharing your newfound experiences as to how you took greater control of your life in a way that results in you feeling like you are living the life you are meant to live.
Dirk Becker is a do-er, some of which includes supporting people on their path, being a socio-economic-political-environmental activist, an organic farmer, agricultural advocate and assists in the creation of this publication.