Pearls of Wisdom

The Power of Choice

In life we experience all kinds of pressures that want to squeeze us into a particular mold to suit someone other than ourselves. This can come from society, your family, your peers, your place of employment or even your spouse. Even in a world with such pressures how can we be true to ourselves?

The first thing you must realize is that nobody can make you do what you do not want to do. Even in the most dire of situations, where there seems to be no choice, you always have the power to choose how you want to respond. Many have come to the conclusion that we are the product of our environment, our society or even our genetic code. But the truth is we are the product of our chosen response to our environment, society and any situation that we ​have encountered. For many this statement may seem very condemning, especially if they ​blame society, racism, injustice, poverty, family breakdown or other bad experiences for ​their shortcomings. Although these things have a powerful impact upon us, nothing can rob us of choice. In other words we cannot control (to an extent) the unexpected things that happen to us but we can control how we respond to it.

Choice has given us the power of self – control. An extreme and moving example of this can be found in Victor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is about Frankl’s experience in a concentration camp, a place designed for both physical and mental torture. Frankl wrote:

“…everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of human freedom – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way. The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even in the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

Frankl was able to create a positive experience out of what life had handed out to him.

Jesus underlined the principle of self control when he said:

“you have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist the evil man; but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other one too. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, to show that you are the children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:38 – 41 and 44-45)

These examples are an indicator of the ‘power of choice’ each of us have, even over natural inclinations and reactions to insults and injustice. Someone hurts you, you hurt back. Someone shouts at you, you shout back. What you don’t realize is that by following this principle, you can be easily controlled because your reaction is so predictable.

You have the power to conduct our behavior according to our inner world (our spirit) of values, laws and principles rather than being controlled by external situations. These are principles, laws and values, which exemplifies the character of our true spiritual nature. Many of us are not at peace with ourselves because our outward behavior is not congruent with our true nature. This gives rise to, inner conflict, guilt, low self-esteem, criticism, blame, depression, anxiety, timidity ​and many other negative emotions. We must realize that these are symptoms of the brokenness caused when our actions are diametrically opposed to our true nature.

Through self-control we can eradicate many of these negative emotions and live happy and fulfilling lives. As a matter of fact, happiness is determined by the degree of control that we have in any given situation. The more control we have, the happier we are. Anytime you are not happy, upon evaluation you will find it is because you lack of control over a situation.

Therefore the path to self control and true happiness is first found when you get in touch with your core values, beliefs and principles and allow this to be the determining factor for all your decisions and conduct. This is the principle centered lifestyle. A principle-centered lifestyle will attract into your life all that you desire that is congruent with what you value. Principle centered living helps you to make decisions that will not take you away from your core values. If one of your core values is spending quality time with your family, accepting a job that pays well, but insists on long working hours will invite turmoil into your life. Principle centered living enables you to determine what you want out of life and the criteria for all achievements. This in turn gives you a great deal of control of your life and more fulfillment.

Once you are clear about your core values and beliefs, the next step is to live responsibly. Responsibility is the acknowledgement of your influence in any given situation. Many people use blame to justify their inadequacies, experiences or lack of progress in life. Blame never solves problems; it only creates guilt, division and animosity. Blame allows us to play the role of the victim. Blame gives us justification for remaining exactly where we are for the rest our lives. How many of us still blame partners from past relationships for making our life miserable. How many of us are blaming our employers for not getting promoted. How many of us are blaming our children for not being able to pursue a career.

The truth is we are responsible for all that we experience in life. Please note that I did not say you are responsible for everything that happens to you, but for what you experience. What you experience is determined by the meaning you give to any given situation. As meanings come under your sphere of influence, you are therefore responsible for what you experience. The reason why you are in a dead-end job, or a destructive relationship, or unemployed is because consciously or unconsciously that is what you have chosen. As harsh as that statement sounds, it is also very liberating. If you are responsible for your own misery then it stands to reason that you are responsible for your own happiness. Taking responsibility puts you in the seat of control. As a business owner, I take responsibility for everything that goes right or wrong within my sphere of control. If one of my staff fails to do something correctly, I ask myself, did I communicate what I wanted effectively? Have I provided the necessary tools to get the job done? Should I have fired this person months ago? Taking responsibility allows me to make the necessary changes for the better. If I just blamed others ​when things go wrong then I make no progress.

​​Many people have a great expectancy of their partner or spouse to provide their happiness. This can be a great burden as human beings by nature are not 100% reliable. Also this type of behavior depletes the relationship. Taking responsibility for your own happiness gives you a greater sense of security and self worth, which in turn helps you to add to the relationship and make it stronger. The next time you get angry with your wife, husband or partner ask yourself, “What am I not doing in my life, that I could be doing, that I am blaming him/her for not doing for me?”

In taking responsibility, it is important not to blame yourself for past failures. It is a waste of your time and energy to punish yourself for past actions. If you adopt the attitude that each of us do the best that we can, according to our level of maturity and knowledge, you will stop blaming yourself. Instead, take responsibility by making sure you learn from your mistakes and gain the necessary experience or knowledge to aid your progress. As mentioned before, you are responsible for your reactions to any given situation. This may seem difficult to believe until you understand what Stephen Covey calls the space of time between stimuli and response. In other words, there was a space of time between someone cutting you off while you were driving and the volley of strong language that proceeded out of your mouth! It is in this space of time that we can make decisions about how we are going to respond.

By becoming more self aware and staying in touch with your core values and beliefs, you will be able to widen the gap between stimuli and response and make choice decisions regarding your response. In the face of challenging obstacles you have the power to choose your response and your attitude. Be yourself and do not copy the reactions of others. A bad situation does not justify discarding your core values and beliefs.

A principle centered lifestyle coupled with responsible living is the formula for achieving great fulfillment. Make the decision to eradicate every excuse or reason for not achieving your goals, by taking responsibility and therefore control of your life.

By taking control of your reactions, you have the ability to create a positive experience out of any situation. Remember that no one can make you do what you do not want to do. I will close with a quote from Ghandi:

“No body can take my self respect unless I give it to them”