The Gift of Choice
I’m not sure where I first ran across this, but there is a thought experiment in which a dog is offered two dishes of food. The two options are identical: same type of food, same quantity, the dishes themselves are even identical, right down to the color (Yes, I know that dogs are colorblind. Let’s say that both dishes are both red), and they’re equidistant from the dog. The dog, lacking any way to prefer one dish over the other, is unable to choose. The dog starves to death.
I think I understand where that dog was coming from.
Most of you who know me as anything other than an anonymous writer on the internet (and perhaps even some of the more perceptive among you who only know me that way), will know that I have difficulty making decisions. What only a few of you know (I hope) is that I find that inability to choose nearly crippling, nearly all the time.
You see, I don’t like closing doors. No, I hate closing doors.
And yes, I know it’s immature. And while in most cases, I am able to look at the hard realities that make me uncomfortable and understand that they’re hard realities and I’d be better off just accepting them, this is one of the things that makes me look around and think, “Nope, this is wrong. Things shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t have to shut out one option in choosing another. The universe is broken.” Which is stupid, and rationally, I know that. Furthermore, I’d be foolish not to realize that this dilemma, of having difficulty choosing between two options that are both pleasant and beneficial, comes from a place of privilege. It is very nice to have more than one good option. So yes, I acknowledge that.
But it doesn’t make the choosing easier, especially when one option necessarily precludes the other. That’s when my mental software starts to have problems. Crippling indecision, lots of me saying “um….”, existential questions about the nature of the universe, etc… It isn’t pretty.
As months go, December probably causes us to be the most introspective. Endings will do that, whether it’s the end of a relationship, or a life, or a job, or whatever. Even if it’s just the end of a year. I’ve been thinking back on the past year, and this is one of the things that continually bothers me. I am bad at making decisions, and it negatively impacts my life. I miss out on things. The indecision thing has become a joke amongst my family and friends (not in a mean way — I don’t mean that). My brother even themed one of his Christmas gifts to me around this very subject:
So yeah, I agonize over trivial decisions. And it has to stop.
Because when you come down to it, choice is a gift. We don’t always think of it that way, but that’s probably because we’re so gifted with it that we have begun to take it for granted. Just one more fishbowl of water (in the David Foster Wallace sense of the term) we’re so immersed in that we no longer recognize it for what it is. And this is a problem, because the last five pairs of options I have agonized over and ultimately squandered valuable time and energy because I was unable to decide are not options which are even available to billions of other people. (This is a slippery slope, and I know it, but that doesn’t change the fact that while I had to decide whether to make banana pancakes at home or go down the street to the Inn for breakfast, there are plenty of others who had nothing to eat other than dirt and tears).
The indecision thing is absolute bullshit. There are plenty of choices, even between two good options, which should be difficult. Most of mine are not among them. I am privileged in this respect, and that is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but the absolute least I can do is to appreciate and respect that privilege.
I guess that’s going to be the first of my resolutions for 2014. Thank you for reading. More to follow.