Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do you and I have a choice?

I have been a part of discussions, talk shops, work-shops, academic presentations and regular person to person discussions on the issue of choice and whether or not people have the freedom to choose. Fundamentally I agree that everyone has the ability to choose and that every person has the freedom of choice, but this fundamental, simple and very shallow acknowledgement must be interrogated by a deeper analysis and the complexity that for some it is easier to choose whilst for others it is not. Furthermore the complexity of choice and the reasoning process lying beneath the surface of choice making or the ability to choose, must be further investigated and discussed. In my experience it seems to easy to render all faults within society, organizations or personal and professional development on the simple statement “you have a choice so choose” or “you had a choice and you chose badly”.

In agreeing that all people have the freedom of choice, it must be clarified that theoretically and intellectually it is so, but the practicality of an ‘I can choose” philosophy is where the problems arise and the rubber meets the road. It is here that I have contested and must continue to contest this simple analysis and shallow propaganda that all people have a choice and all people can choose. My main reason for raising the argument or contestation is based upon my observation that choice making or having the ability to choose is more complex than simple based on the art of choice or the art and educative process of choosing.

The complexity arises from the fact that social constructs and social realities have existed for lengths of time which have unfortunately rendered large numbers of people, communities and a whole generation of human beings choice-less or with the belief that they cannot choose. They do not have the ability to acknowledge that by their belief in ‘I cannot choose’ they are there in choosing not to choose. In fact it is here that smart intellectual arguments and hopeful statements of ‘make a choice to be a better person’ is rendered useless, when people have been plagued by the rationale that they have no choice.

Dominant rulers and dictatorial leadership, who have enjoyed the thrust of colonial escapades and continue to enjoy the thrust of neo colonial escapades, have actually minimized people into a state of social depravity and passivity. Such examples can be seen clearly in the Nazi regime and its brain washing of soldiers who carried out the merciless acts of ending the lives of Jewish people because of Nazi ideology. Yes they made a choice but it is clear that they were influenced by a system that convinced them that what they were doing was right. Again I agree that these people made a choice, but is this the type of choice making that we hear in our motivational pep talks and choice making consultations provided by corporate trainers and consultants. I think and I believe not.

Last week on 3rd assignment, a show that presents provocative media covered a story on mob justice. In this story a mother was told that she had to discipline her son for being a thug and mugging people in their township. The mother was given a bolder and told that she should cast the first stone. The mother clearly had to make a choice, either hurl the stone at her son or face the consequences of the mob dealing with her and her family for her inaction or reluctance to discipline her son. Clearly she made a choice but we cannot deny that there are social factors which dictated circumstances.

It is therefore important to provide people who are in a state of mental, physical, emotional, social, and economic oppression – the opportunity and experience that will aid them in the process of arriving at a place and space where they know how to exercise choice and to choose wisely.

Maybe in the example of the mother being forced by a mob seeking justice, she could have chosen to use some delay tactics or find a way to prolong matters until her son was able to run away or until police came. Maybe when we look at the example of the Nazi regime and the brain washing of people who became agents of evil, we must further explore the opportunities to expose people to the art of choice making.

Especially in the corporate arena or the everyday workplace where we may not face social evils of mob justice or Nazi law, but we do face social realities of people being regulated and many times minimized by organizational rule and autocracy. It is here that we must understand that not eve-ryone feels like they have a choice even if not choosing based upon their belief can be easily argued as they have chosen by not choosing. I have come across many people who feel totally captured and disenfranchised by their environment. I have spent much time coaching people on the method and approach of creating agency within the structural confinements of their working place. The ability to create agency is a choice but it is a skill acquired and an approach that requires time taken to study activism in the workplace that is diplomatic. Creating agency diplomatically provides healthy pressure within gate keeping systems that by design are actually choking the passion out of people in the workplace.

“For to choose is a choice that must be chosen, when you know that choosing is your choice to choose”. I offer this statement in light of deepening our discussions and understanding of life. In my everyday world I see people trapped in social realities believing they cannot make a choice or choose to bring change to their personal and family life circumstances. Social circumstances of unemploy-ment, lack of education, lack of access to resource or social networks, or just the inability to make a choice strategically in light of our complex democratic South Africa, are factors that must be consid-ered when considering choice and people’s ability or inability to choose. Choice is not worth choosing when your choice ends up in you loosing. It is a strategic choice making that must be engaged and explored in a world that is driven by capital gain and upward mobility.

1 comment:

Matt Runion said...

Challenging stuff, SethO. I need to read it again to soak in some of this even more.
Interesting that your post comes the same day I was introduced to Sheena Iyengar's 10 July presentation about "choice" at TED. Check it out.