Life is filled with choices. From routine habits to carefully considered decisions, we make hundreds of choices each day. Human beings across the planet generally desire similar outcomes: to meet our basic needs and to live a life filled with joy, love, and peace. We all seem to take a different path to the same destination, often colliding with one another toward reaching our ideal goals, but what if we were to make an effort to consolidate our choices with fewer interceptions and conflicts? There is a way-and it impacts every choice we make.
Also by Donna Kendall: Sailing on an Ocean of Tears, Dancing with Bianchina, Stitch-a-Story, Uncle Charlie's Soup
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The Consistent ChoiceFor Better Living in a Better World
By Donna Kendall
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Donna Kendall
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Examine Choice?
Human development and learning has resulted from a steady stream of choices, decisions and consequences. From the time one reaches an age when there is some control over decision-making, life is filled with an array of good and evil intentions, right and wrong options, and positive and negative outcomes. As children, our choices may not be calculated or well-considered; a toddler's choices are often governed by stretching the free-will muscles to see how they work. However, once a child's cognitive development increases, so does the sophistication of their choices. Children begin to rely less on impulse and innate behaviors, and discover that certain outcomes result from poor choices. As we grow and become more comfortable with this process we begin to see choices for what they are: opportunities for potential growth, stagnation, or harm. The complexity of human decision-making is a quality that separates us from other living species. Animals do not see the end of their existence as a possible outcome of their decisions. People, as more advanced creatures, are able to contemplate ourselves, our actions, our future – not solely as individuals but as a family of persons. As the human race has worked to become more civilized, it is important to remember that growth is the result of human choices. We continue to grow as we learn from our choices – from error as well as success. Yet, not unlike mice in a maze, from the very first choice made by humanity to the complexity of choices we face today, we struggle for the outcome that provides us with a reward, or, possibly more choices. The worst possible fate is a dead-end choice. The best case scenario is the alternative that provides us with additional opportunities that foster a pattern of growth by doing the least amount of harm.
As recorded in the Old Testament, humanity began its very existence with a life-altering choice, and from the very beginning God has honored our choices above everything else, for one of the greatest gifts we have received as living beings is free will. God created us with an aptitude for decision-making. We might well have been created otherwise, but the fact that we may choose to exercise this will for what is good or what is not good for us, is evidence that choices are woven into the very fabric of our being. From the Judeo-Christian account of the creation of Adam and Eve, one of the first things to confront this newly created couple was a set of instructions, followed by a choice. In the book of Genesis, God had commanded "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gn. 2:16-17). God had presented humanity with a choice from the very beginning, and from that first moment, Choose Life was a difficult choice to make.
As the first recorded decision ever made by human beings appeared to have been a life and death decision, it subsequently demonstrates the significance of every human decision since then. Why give humans such a definitive choice? Did they understand that it was a critical life-and-death choice? They were told it was, and yet they chose an option that perhaps seemed right at the time. If one supposes that this first recorded decision was the prototype for all succeeding decisions and that every decision is in some respect a life-or-death choice, it encourages us to examine all our decisions more carefully. Presumably, each day is another chance to remake that first decision made by the human race that chose some kind of harm over good. With each new day humanity plays out that scene again and again – the opportunity to make a choice that is life-giving over one that serves a different purpose.
The value of understanding the relationship between choice and desired outcome often comes down to motive. There is an innate need to serve a known, or even an unknown purpose with each decision that is made, but the old adage, "you can't always have your cake and eat it too" comes back to haunt us. We wish to have positive outcomes for both positive and negative choices. Professor Gregory Foster in his article "Ethics: Time to Revisit the Basics" explains,
"When we seek to determine the rightness or wrongness of something, we should do so with two major criteria in mind: truth and justice. Ralph Waldo Emerson made the monumentally insightful observation that 'truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it [truth] to affairs.' The two go hand in hand. Ethics—ethical reasoning, ethical choice, ethical conduct—requires that we seek the truth, the pinnacle of life, in order to have a proper basis—the only legitimate basis—for achieving justice. Justice served is ethics realized" (The Humanist).
By making consistent ethical choices, and choosing the life-result over the destructive choice, it is necessary to factor in truth and justice for the benefit of life, so that our choices rely on a beneficial and natural routine. Dr. Foster goes on to remind us that
"Habit is programmed repetition, the routinization of thought by which we remove presumably mundane matters to our subconscious so they can be dealt with more efficiently or conveniently without the attendant need to constantly revisit first principles."
In order to make consistent life-affirming choices, one must align all thoughts within the parameters of truth that is motivated by justice. This alignment is often challenged by the needs of the moment, to which little thought about truth and justice may be given.
Quite often, the bombardment of choices with which we are confronted on a daily basis can be overwhelming. It takes a concerted effort to entrust our intellect with the duty of making the decision to choose life among all our options. Most often, small decisions don't appear to be life-or-death. It often appears that larger decisions are more crucial – we know when those decisions come along and they can be agonizing. Yet, because habitual decisions are often at the mercy of non-thinking processes, it becomes even more critical to adjust all thoughts toward the ultimate good by making life-giving, moral and ethical choices. To illustrate this point, consider the cereal aisle of any grocery store in the United States and suddenly everything we understand about life and choices comes into sharper focus. Where did all these choices come from? Not only are there choices of cereal brands, but choices within those brands with regard to types of grains, flavors, shapes, flakes, clusters, charms, fruits, crunchiness, nutritive value, and so on. The cereal aisle may well be a microcosm of the world in which we live and a fair evaluation of our decision-making capabilities. Do we have the time to investigate which cereal is right for us? Are we so overwhelmed with choices that we pick up what we've always eaten, or do we feel adventurous and try something new? Have our choices been influenced by an advertisement? Or have we perhaps stopped caring and decide on whatever looks good that day, or something that's on sale? While grocery shopping may not necessarily seem to involve ethical or moral decision-making, it can be a daunting exercise in life skills, and the cereal aisle is only one path in the montage of consumer decisions. In the big scheme of things, the cereal aisle may seem like a pretty safe place where the choices confronting us may not seem life-threatening.
However, a choice as apparently simple as which cereal to eat can have potential consequences beyond our understanding. If the upshot of our cereal preference affected our taste buds alone, we might perhaps choose something incredibly sweet, with ample additives that enhance the flavor. As we know, our taste buds are not the only body part affected by our food preferences. Other cells in the human body are affected by high levels of sugar and additives. Still, if our sweeter selections affected our personal health alone, unhealthy choices might well be excused, but as genetics and biology confirm, once we reproduce, our children may carry the DNA that predisposes them to diseases complicated by eating too much sugar.
If one's decisions affected no one else than the individual then what difference would it make what choices were made; choice would carry little, or no burden. If, however, one stops to consider how each choice affects an entire race of human beings, then it seems prudent that our choices should be more carefully evaluated. The reality is that each individual decision does not affect the decision-maker alone. Humans are all connected: genetically, socially, spiritually, economically, politically, and scientifically. We do not live in isolated bubbles – we are all an integral part of a created world. Regardless of one's beliefs or understanding of how creation came to be, the fact remains: humanity is not composed of isolated beings disconnected from one another. We are united by DNA, and we all share the same home – the planet Earth. Through our choices we have the power to create the kind of world in which we'd prefer to live – we remake these choices each and every day. As individual humans, and as collective humanity, we are the sum of our choices. If we can refocus our intentions and grow into a habit of choosing life in both the mundane and seemingly insignificant decisions, as well as those more critical, then perhaps we can evolve into a human race that perseveres for the good of all. A human person is the most precious thing there is, and as humans we want solid affirmation about every choice we make. The goal is to take a closer look at how our liberties and freedoms combined with our rights to choose have sometimes put us at odds with ourselves. Putting all our choices on the same page may affect a desired outcome shared by all.
Individual growth is governed by individual choices but can still be profoundly affected by the choices of others. It's a reciprocal affectation; our choices affect others and their choices affect us. In order for true growth to occur in humanity, our individual and collective choices must be integrated. For the strongest principle of growth to benefit everyone, the human choice must be geared toward advancing all of humanity.
Chapter TwoFrom Origins to Destinations
"Life and death have long played a central role in anthropology's efforts to define the human. Recent developments in the experience of both, however, suggest reconfigurations in these essential thresholds of being and a corresponding need to reexamine the analytic assumptions brought to bear on them. Alongside the emergence of new forms of biological science, medical technology and expertise, a concern for life pervades both international political discourse and the rhetoric of international moralism. Both individual bodies and figures of mass death feature prominently in political stagecraft, while calculations of risk define and measure life conditions. In addition to recognizing the emergence of humanitarianism, human rights, and ecology as key secular domains central to the construction of valued life, we ask participants to rethink classic topics in politics, ethics, kinship and religion around this concern for being and nonbeing. What phenomena mark an era that rediscovers economy in terms of precariousness, and sanctions state torture in the name of security? What new ghosts might it produce? How have these changes unsettled kinship, generations, and human horizons of the future by reconfiguring relations between the living and the dead or the young and the old?" (The Society for Cultural Anthropology: Life and Death, A Conversation, Spring SCA meeting).
Cultural anthropology is a science dedicated to understanding our humanness in all the contexts of daily life including, but not limited to, how we perceive the world around us through art, literature, music and religion; how we structure our governments, hierarchies, families, and social and economic paradigms; as well as our behaviors, traditions and customs. The sum of who we have become as a species is the result of millions of years of decisions, both individual and collective. From the very beginning our innate nature fostered a need to balance our individual needs against those of the collective.
Early humans were tribal. Survival of the species depended upon the ability to defend ourselves against predators or other tribes. We needed to rely on communal strength to help us in situations where as individuals we could not face the danger alone. A struggle between satisfying the individual versus meeting the needs of the group developed and has plagued the human race since the very beginning. What causes harm to the community may cause harm to the individual, and what causes harm to the individual may cause harm to the community. Similarly, what benefits one person may benefit the group, and what benefits the group may benefit the person. The burning question remains: how can we make choices that benefit both the individual and the collective when the ultimate goal of life on the planet is to maintain and improve life?
Newborn babies illustrate our most primitive instincts, those behaviors which require no decision-making as a result of learning through experience. Newborns begin to breathe air, to sleep, to eat, to cry, and to seek comfort from others, primarily the mother, without how-to lessons. As babies grow and develop they begin to rely less on instincts and more on learned behavior – this affects cognitive, physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. Over time we develop self-control and self-discipline to outgrow limited instinctual behavior. Without this type of growth and development, we would always succumb to our momentary needs and instinctual behaviors whenever the mood hits us. Curling up in a ball and going to sleep at work when we feel tired would result in written reprimands and possibly job loss. How well-disciplined we are becomes the value by which we measure our development as a human being. "The more disciplined behavior (behavior determined by intellect) displayed by the individual, the more human he becomes. The less disciplined behavior (behavior in response to instinct) displayed by the individual, the more he becomes like the lower order of animals that are lacking in intellect and are driven by their instincts" (onelife.com).
To achieve the highest level of our humanness requires that we advance beyond our neonatal instincts and progress toward self-actualization, but this involves regulating behavior away from impulse and more toward reasoned decisions because the goal of self-discipline is to be responsible citizens. If we each lived completely alone on an island, there would be no need for self-discipline; we could eat and sleep when we please, behave in any manner that satisfied the needs of the moment and there would be no need for rules governing self-restraint since our own behaviors would affect no one else but ourselves. If we wish to live our lives with the intent of satisfying the individual but cannot acknowledge that our actions will have an effect on others, then we are up against an unrealistic fantasy. Our choices must take into consideration the effect we will have on others. With each decision we make that affects the self, we affect the whole. There is not one single decision we can make that does not have a ripple effect. It may not be immediately obvious, sometimes it takes many years to see the result, but the course of human history reveals that whatever plagued us on Day One of our existence continues to plague us today.
The Old Testament is filled with stories that reflect the beliefs, traditions, and spiritual growth of the human race that began with an impressive account of creation, where God as the Creator of all things, looked upon his creation and deemed that it was good. Within a few short pages we encounter the most defining moment in all of human history. In the book of Genesis we read the story of our human infancy where God created human beings and placed them in a wonderful place and surrounded them with the beauty and goodness of his creation. Among the most beautiful gifts on the earth was the essence and wonder of variety. If everything had been completely the same in the world; if there were only one thing to eat, only one kind of plant or animal, only one color, only one type of person, etc..., there would be no need for decisions or choices. But the world has an abundance of goods, and along with those goods, we have the freedom to choose. Dilemma was the result of choice. Whether we consider the first decision-making humans, or our own personal decision-making development, choice is the very first thing that happens to us as human beings once our instinctual behavior confronts our intellect and conscience. We are responsible for making numerous choices. The decisions of early human beings have somehow affected life as we know it today. If we have learned nothing else we should recognize that an individual's choices do not impact the individual alone, but make an impression on each member of our world, because we are not disconnected from one another, not by time, space, or actions.
In everything there is a choice and with each choice we have free will, and with this freedom there is responsibility. With responsibility comes the broader understanding that we are part of a large human family and we owe humanity our best decisions. Around the year 1910, The London Times posed a question as an invitation for essays to write on the theme: "What is wrong with the world?" In response to this question, G.K. Chesterton, writer, philosopher, and journalist, replied with the following letter:
Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton
What plagues humanity as a whole begins with the individual. As a human being I am the sum of the choices I've made. As a culture of people we are the sum of billions of individual choices. We are all connected to one another, and sometimes we choose to remember that, and at other times, if it proves to be inconvenient, we choose to forget. If a person understood how even a simple choice could affect the human race, would choices be evaluated more carefully? We do not live in solitary worlds of our own making – we are part of an interconnected world. There is a physical thread that connects us to every other human being and to other living things, but there is also the thread of caring and concern that connects us as well. Humans have always shared this planet as our home and through the gift of choice we have had the power to create the kind of world in which we'd like to live.
Excerpted from The Consistent Choice by Donna Kendall Copyright © 2012 by Donna Kendall. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Why Examine Choice?....................1
From Origins to Destinations....................7
The Finite Choice....................13
The Nature of Choice....................19
A Vital Ingredient....................25
The Decision-Making Hierarchy....................35
The Tools We Need to Make Life-Giving Choices....................53
A Wellspring for the Living....................79
Barrier Behaviors to Life-Choices....................99
It's Not Easy Being Green....................123
The Joy-Filled Life....................141
The Circle of Choice....................167
About the Author....................181