Monday, November 21, 2005

tough choices

The amazing thing is that we all say that there are choices we do not know how to make and yet, one way or another, we make them when necessary. How does it happen that we feel so strongly that we cannot do something that we quite evidently will do, one way or another?

Cynics would say that this is merely a way of ducking responsibility for doing what we want to do: that would be unfair. In lots of situations, we make the best of two difficult choices. Although they are not really ever two equally difficult choices. We make fine distinctions among things that are difficult to assign value in ways that can be weighed out consciously. It is the same thing we do when we look at two faces and notice that one is happy and the other is confused, even before we have time to look at the particular position of the eyebrows or the curve of the mouth. We notice a pattern and use it to discern a meaning.

At other times, we find a third way. Like the mother brought before Solomon, we say no to the choice offered us or we say no to the meaning that has been assigned to that choice. If you do not know the story (lucky you! to have evaded the pattern), two women claiming to be the mother of the same infant are brought before Solomon. Solomon decrees that the baby be torn in half and half given to each woman. One woman gives up her right in the baby so that the baby can live. Solomon then declares that woman the mother. In giving up her claim, she gains her child. Faced with a choice between renouncing her child or killing it, the woman simply changes the meaning of the renunciation. If she had truly not known how to make the choice, the baby would have been killed. Maybe.

The thing about stories - and choices - is that they only turn out one way. We do not get to know 'what would have happened if.'

It's probably a good thing. Think how many more difficult choices we would have if we could see all the alternatives we process in the backs of our minds.

No comments: