“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” ― Viktor E. Frankl
You have a choice. Every day, every moment, you are choosing. You are choosing to read this. You are choosing how to spend this moment. You are choosing to work or study or write or create. You are choosing the relationships you nurture. You are choosing how you view the world.
If you have a job you don’t like, you have options. You can choose to pursue a job change, change the way you feel about the job, or even choose not to work.
If you’re frustrated with a relationship, you can choose to share your feelings with that person, change how you view the relationship, or choose to end it.
Unless someone is holding a gun to your head you have a choice. Actually, even if someone is threatening your life, you still have a choice. As Viktor Frankl says, you can choose your response.
Of course, your choices come with consequences, and a careful consideration of those is vital to making a choice that is right for you. You are free to utilize any and all resources available to you, but ultimately, you need to make your own decisions.
Choosing is both a privilege and a burden, because it brings freedom and also responsibility — freedom of self-direction and responsibility for the results that ensue. It doesn’t work to cloak your choices as excuses for your behavior. Blaming the traffic for my late arrival somewhere ignores the fact that I could have left earlier, for example. Traffic is an excuse, but I need to own my part in the timing of my journey.
A common definition of maturity is taking responsibility for your own actions. Despite my age there are still times I catch myself blaming someone or something else for choices I ultimately made. It’s an ongoing process for most of us.
A friend recently complained about being tired because her fiancée insists that they spend hours on the phone every night, even after she comes home late after a long day at work. I reminded her that she doesn’t “have” to stay up this way, but she disagreed, explaining that he is adamant on this point. Choosing words that blame her sleep deprivation on her fiancée’s expectations relieves her of responsibility for the consequences, but it also restricts her power. On the other hand, if she reframed her exhaustion as a choice she is making to honor their relationship, it would not change the fact that she is tired, but it would empower her in a way that making him the culprit doesn’t.
As an adult, I have a great deal of freedom for which I’m grateful every day. As a child in school, this was not the case. Like all kids, I was relegated to spending a certain number of hours/day for years in classrooms with teachers talking about subjects that were chosen for me by school boards or other administrative personnel — people who didn’t even know me. I couldn’t just walk out of school if I was bored or otherwise discontented. Okay, I could have, but I essentially had no rights to stand on. Was I horribly unhappy? No. But if you had offered me the choice of traditional school or learning what interested me in ways that still met my social needs, I think I would have chosen the latter. That option didn’t exist when I was young, so it’s a moot point. Still, the option to choose is pretty universally attractive. I know no one who really enjoys being told what to do. Even people who say they dislike having too many choices still enjoy a measure of control over their lives.
My love of freedom was a lot of the appeal of unschooling for me. I could give my kids a true choice with regard to their education. In fact, I told them from an early age that they were responsible for their own education. I was on-hand to support, nurture and inform their journey, but I did not take their ability to choose from them. My job was to give them a wide selection of available options and to counsel them on the possible consequences of choosing those options.
As we gave them choices, we gave them the corresponding responsibility, because the two go hand-in-hand. This gave them years of experience with the choice/responsibility connection. Since I wasn’t “making” them study or take classes or do workbooks or go to bed at a set time, there was no resentment to deal with. (Except for the years I “heavily encouraged” my son to continue to play the violin. But I finally got wise and listened to him and let that go.) They knew that they would be held accountable.
Knowing they always had a choice in what they were doing had a subtle, yet profound effect on them, and ultimately made our job of parenting easier. They knew we would not try to run their lives for them, nor would we stand for excuses; and they knew we were there all the time to help them if they wanted guidance. They appreciated their opportunities and felt more satisfied with their choices. That satisfaction made them happier to be around, and more able to give happiness to others.
Becoming more aware of my choices and learning to reframe problems as opportunities increases my happiness. If I hear myself complaining about a situation, I know it’s an opportunity for me to see my own part in the problem. When I acknowledge that I have a part in the problem, then I have a choice to change–either the situation or my response to the situation. Either way, for me, that power of choice brings me joy.
© Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jean Nunnally and TrustYourChild with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.