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How much choice do we REALLY have in 2018?05 / 08 / 2018

“For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.”

I believe that the main reason why Kanye West’s recent statement about slavery has been so triggering has less to do with his disrespect of the ancestors and more to do with what he implied about our level of personal choice right now.

When there’s something important at stake and someone says “You had a choice”, it implies that you deserved the ramifications of that choice.

If there’s nothing at stake, then it doesn’t fucking matter. You had a choice between broccoli or cauliflower. You had a choice between the pink shirt or the striped shirt. No one cares.

If my lactose intolerant ass decides to eat some ice cream and then I have the runs, if you say “That sounds like a choice”, you’re implying that I deserve to have the runs. I knew I was lactose intolerant and no one forced me to eat it. With a different decision I could have prevented that whole shitty experience (pun intended).

Now one surefire way to trigger struggling people is to talk about how their personal choices affect them reaching their goals, be they career, financial or even relationship goals. No one that’s struggling likes to hear the old “pick yourself up from your bootstraps” line. Yet there’s always someone who has come out of a disadvantaged community by willing and working themselves into success. Those stories can cause privileged people to say, “Well, clearly, it wasn’t impossible because this guy figured it out. So if you’re broke and unsuccessful, it’s your choice!”

That right there is at the core of the outrage over what Kanye said. If he’s saying that 400 years of slavery was a choice, then he’s telling me that my current situation is a choice. And quite frankly, I’m not tryna hear that shit!

That’s precisely why I was triggered enough to spend hours researching Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and the Haitian Revolution, learning all the facts I could to prove that comparing Haiti to the US was comparing apples to oranges. Now, I’d never cared enough about the Haitian Revolution enough to research it before, but my subconscious was like “NAH! THEY NOT GON JUST SIT HERE AND BLAME THE VICTIM!” Because then they would be blaming me for everything I haven’t accomplished yet.

So since this conversation is really about the present, let’s talk about our level of choice and how it affects our lives today.

There’s a belief system that basically says “In order to be fully empowered, you have to believe in the power of your choices, and you can NEVER ‘play the victim’, regardless of what has happened to you in the past.” When you listen to Tony Robbins’ recent response to the #MeToo movement, you’ll hear that belief system in his statements. Now, we have lots of different choices during every second of every day, and every choice is an opportunity to change our situation for better or worse. However, it’s important to note that our number of available choices increase dramatically as we have more money, power, privilege and influence. They decrease conversely when we lack those things. Beyonce can choose to book a flight to Bora Bora right now. That choice is not available to a homeless man sleeping on the NYC subway right now. And technically, although I could choose to max out my credit cards and book a flight to Bora Bora, that’s not a realistic choice for me. A realistic choice for me would be to take my ass to the local park.

Our belief systems have a huge influence on our available choices, which are unfortunately influenced by trauma. Based on what we were taught as children through words, observations, and experiences, our subconscious minds can run “programs” that cause us to act against our own best interests. For example, if you grow up watching all the women around you staying in domestic violence situations, you might believe this is normal and end up in an abusive relationship. Maybe you’ll be abused. Maybe you’ll be the abuser. Now, if you’re fortunate enough to be mentored by people in healthy relationships, you have a much higher chance of not staying in a cycle of violence. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says “I think I want to choose domestic violence for my life! That sounds like an awesome lifestyle!” However, when our trauma is running the show, it guides our choices in a potentially harmful direction. We’re all running different “programs” for relationships, money, health, and every other area of our lives. These programs cause us to make more subconscious choices than conscious choices.

Our choices are further influenced by our awareness of available options. Had I known about Bitcoin 5 years ago, I’d be a millionaire right now. Technically, Bitcoin was available to everyone, but most of us didn’t know about it.. so was that choice really available to us? Is it our fault that we missed that gold rush? No. Should we feel ashamed about it? No. We did the best we could with what we knew!

Whether or not our choices are perceived as “good” or “bad” are completely subjective. What if you did hear about Bitcoin 5 years ago, but you decided not to invest in it? Was that a “bad” decision? How the hell were you supposed to know it would go up astronomically? What if you decided to invest right before the last crash? Was that a “bad” decision? How could you know exactly when it would crash? For all we know, it could have kept climbing. We can only judge our decisions as being “bad” or “good” in hindsight, after we see the results. At the moment of our choice, sometimes we don’t know the outcome, and that’s scary. That’s why we get very triggered when people judge our choices as being “bad”. That’s why so many of us got triggered by people judging slaves’ decisions in a condescending, judging tone. Every slave who walked off the plantation or participated in a revolt didn’t know whether he was going to make it to freedom or if he would be tortured and killed. Those that stayed put knew that they could at least live another day and continue to spend time with their loved ones (if they weren’t sold away). I can’t judge that as the “wrong” decision. In a situation like that, I can certainly see how one might feel like they had no choice. Or at least no good choices (Lung cancer or colon cancer, anyone?).

Is there ever a time when we literally have no choice? Not limited options, not unknown options.. Like NO CHOICE WHATSOEVER? Sometimes things happen to us that are simply out of our control. Four years ago, I was walking home one night, followed all of the rules for crossing the street, and when I was about 2/3rds of the way across the street, a car made a quick, sharp left turn into the wrong lane and into my body. Between the time I saw the bright lights and the time my ass was knocked out, there is absolutely NOTHING I could have done differently. Although my choice was taken from me in that moment, thankfully, I made it out alive with minimal injuries and I was able to choose to make the most of the situation.

Feeling like we have no choice on an ongoing basis is totally disempowering. In 2018, if we don’t feel like we have choices in our lives, we’re probably gonna sit on our asses and do nothing. For this reason, I see the value in believing that we do have choices, even if we come from a disadvantaged background. That’s the only way we’ll create more of those inspirational stories of making something out of nothing. In order to create miracles, we have to actually believe that we can succeed against all odds.

When we believe in the power of our choices, we’re more likely to find opportunities in places where they didn’t exist before. We’re also more likely to invest our resources into things that will increase our level of choice. I’ve personally invested in therapy, bodywork sessions, books about reprogramming the subconscious mind and coaching to expand my choices. My coach, for example, gives me advice from a perspective I didn’t know existed. She tells me to take actions that I didn’t know were possible. Following that advice has increased my income and increased my level of choice yet again. BUT, although I’ve made these investments in myself, I would never look down one anyone who hasn’t chosen to invest in the same things. While it was a “good” decision for me, it might not be a “good” decision for someone who has more urgent responsibilities, like medical bills or a family to take care of.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the situation), the real world doesn’t care why we made the choices we did. Saying “I didn’t know” or “it’s a subconscious program” doesn’t absolve us of the consequences of our actions. We can’t tell a judge “Well, I abused my children because my mom abused me” and expect to go free.

Since we’re all going to be held accountable for our actions, there’s a sense of urgency to snap ourselves and others out of a sleepwalking state. Some of us try to incite action through judgment and insensitive statements. We see this all the time on social media, but although this approach is excellent for garnering likes, follows, engagement and media attention, I believe it does more harm than good. It increases resistance to change, instead of fostering new beliefs and encouraging new actions.  Last week, many of us (myself included) became historians and defense lawyers for ancestors who are long gone and probably playing spades in heaven (not thinking about Kanye). Very few people took this prompt and said “Hmm.. How can I empower myself to make better choices that will have a positive impact on my future?” Very few people did anything other than argue on social media. So if the goal of Kanye’s inflammatory statement was to help his audience, I don’t think it was very successful (aside from helping news outlets get a ton of ad revenue).

If the intention is truly to help, those of us who are privileged enough to have more choices could give back and present disadvantaged people with more choices (Remember more choices become available to us as we’re aware of them). So let’s work on our personal issues, release our trauma and release our judgment of self and others. Let’s put in the work to dissolve the subconscious blocks that limit our choices and hold us back. Let’s write our books, release our music, create dope art, follow our passions and do amazing work in our fields to show others that anything is possible! Let’s pay it forward and share what we’ve learned. Let’s mentor others. Let’s reach out and help in love. It took a long time for me to undo this belief/program, but I’ve finally learned that I can get personal results and encourage others to action without judgment and blaming. We don’t need to have our feelings hurt to change. Tough love doesn’t have to be rude or disrespectful. I actually think that messages of self-efficacy are more effective when they’re not condescending. Instead of judging people for not picking themselves up from their broken or non-existent bootstraps, let’s start sharing our boots.

Share me!

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  • Zsusa Hortoninski

    This is so well written. The truth, which she pointed out, is that at any moment we may or may not have a choice. Her statement about how believing that we have choices, even in dire circumstances, can lead to great things is very poignant.