The Choice of Choosing

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Don't Miss!

     I remember watching a cartoon growing up. The character is chasing a particularly annoying bird through a desert and comes to a fork in the road. He deliberates for a moment and chooses to turn right – thereby running right off the edge of a cliff. I always used to wonder: why did he turn right? There were clearly no signs pointing that way, nor were there any signs warning of the danger that lay ahead. More surprisingly, the bird had left no tracks to follow.

The above is how most of us make our choices in life – or is it? Are the major choices we make: career paths, people to date and/or marry, whether to have children, what home to buy etc. really that random? There is a popular aphorism among the socially liberal: that regarding the freedom of choice. We tend to promote choice as the paramount right of a human being. Be it, for instance, the right to choose a career over a domestic existence, the right to choose not to have that baby, or the right to discard generations of constrictive religio-cultural heritage in favor of a more Westernized, “freer” wardrobe. Yet, is it the individual that makes these choices – or do we, as a society, make them for them?

I was recently reading an article about choices. The author warned: “Nobody but you can completely know what to choose.” Where does this knowledge come from? We do not wake up one morning, for instance, and instantly develop an entire sequence of thoughts and analyses out of thin air to make an informed decision. Let’s take the smaller decisions, for starters. Should I have the dry, bordering-on-disgusting high fiber cereal for breakfast, or should I stop by Krispy Kreme’s for a glazed piece of heaven? This seemingly trivial decision is also pre-made for me. My doctor has told me to aim for a low-sugar-fat diet, fashion magazines have told me that skinny is in and suddenly, every inch of my being is telling me that eating that donut will take me further away from these goals I have to attain. (Well, in my case, this epiphany usually strikes minutes after the donut has settled comfortably in my belly).

This brings me to the bigger “choices”. Are these random at all? My answer would be no. We have all been raised a certain way and we all undergo vastly diverse and individually distinct experiences in our formative years and beyond. In my opinion, it is only with these playing blocks we are handed by life that we build our castles. Choice, hence, is not really a choice – but a result of what has been ingrained into us by our surroundings, our experiences and the individuals (parents, teachers, spiritual leaders and so on) who had a primary influence on our psyches during our lifetimes.

I wrote this blog because a friend and I recently had a conversation about Muslim women and the “choice” of not wearing the hijab/burkha. I pointed out that I strongly felt that Muslim women have every right to continue to embrace this part of their cultural heritage if it is, to them, a symbol of pride in their background or religion. He pointed out that this choice of exhibiting pride was not necessarily a choice made by them – but maybe it was made for them. A brilliant alternative way to look at it…

I have personally encountered, in my research of the Somali community, girls as young as 5 and 6 wearing full burkhas. Where is the choice in childhood? When I questioned the parents – they pointed out that eventually, the girls may choose to not wear the veil. We must ask: when this eventually arrives, do they really think that the childhood years of encouraging “pride” in their culture and religion will have zero effect on the girls’ choices? Will a sense of loyalty to these teachings really allow the girls to step away and choose to be different? Will the choice to be different be made even more difficult if most other girls their age are choosing to conform?

When it comes to making choices, do we really have the luxury of making them on our own?

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