A few months back (on 10 March), we posted an essay on choices and free will and offered some practical advice that may help some individuals to avoid making costly mistakes. Now, we want to take another perspective on the choices we make during our life’s journey.
Life is tougher now than ever before, oh yes. Sure, in earlier times people had to cope with more physical discomfort and pain prior to some of the advances of modern medicine. However, consider the ubiquitous psychological, mental and emotional pressures and stresses endured in contemporary daily living. With these pervasive pressures and stresses on us, it is very difficult to make good decisions every time. In a sense and to a certain degree, our lives are defined (or constrained) by our choices. And, sometimes, we are trapped by our choices.
Consider that at every fork in the road of our life’s journey we must choose one path to continue along rather than another path (and often we are confronted with multiple possible paths, but can only take one). This ongoing series of life choices starts early in our lives. Consider all these choices. (Some choices/decisions are made for us early on by our parents.) What kind of people we choose as friends. Which school(s) we will attend. Where we will live. What will we study in preparation for a career. Who we will date or court. And, then, who we will marry. Or, will we marry at all. Will we stay married. How many children we will have. How we will raise those children. What business we will start. Which employer will we work for. Which religion we will practice, or whether we will put any effort into spirituality and moral living at all.
In a more macro sense, we choose over time how we will live our lives and by what set of (personal) values will we live by.
Have you ever wondered what your life may have been like if you had chosen a different path at one, or more, of the many, many crossroads we encounter over the years?! This ongoing series of life choices can be visualized as an ever expanding web that grows very large over the years. Say, for example, what would your life look like today if you had pursued a different career path? – Had chosen to live in a different region of the country? – Had dated and then married someone else? – Had stayed married? etc., etc.
Each time you make a significant decision you have placed yourself on a different thread on that web of possibilities. With different choices, our lives would be different – perhaps better, perhaps worse.
So, what was it, what combination of choices and actions over the course of your life, that has you reading this essay? What placed you in this specific, unique set of circumstances where you had the choice (and chose) to read this essay?
I sometimes think like this when some miserable wretch driving recklessly on the highway nearly smashes me into the ditch. (My driving skills have saved me more than once.) Was it all the cumulative decisions, actions and efforts over the many years of my life that led me to this? That placed me at this exact location at this precise moment where I may have been killed, or maimed? (Fate? Karma? Chance?)
Let’s continue with this automobile smash-up scenario. Is it every action (including one’s choices) in one’s life that brings a person inevitably to this exact moment? Or, might it be that if I had left the house and got into my car a moment or two sooner, or a moment later (than I did) that the whole situation would have been avoided?
We cannot know the future. We cannot know all the future possibilities that are opened up or closed down by our decisions. What we can say with confidence is that a different choice, a different decision results in a different set of possible futures. A different combination of choices over the course of our lives would lead us to very different paths and thus very different lives.
Every choice – no matter how well thought out – involves risk and uncertainty, and that is the reality of the human condition. In a sense, life is an adventure even for those who do not travel to far off exotic lands, or climb very tall mountains, or jump out of airplanes with a parachute, etc.
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