I’ve been feeling out the ideas of consent, of being leashed and unleashed, of deceptive marketing practices. How these ideas are all connected.
As I’m exploring them, in blog posts by others and in conversations, both online and in-person, the idea of “choice” always comes up.
And I really hate it.
The conversations usually go something like this:
Person 1: XYZ thing is bad and it stomps on other’s consent or feeds their insecurities or makes them powerless or manipulates or tricks and robs them in some way.
Person 2: True. Remember though those other people always have the choice not to buy into the thing, to not be so insecure, to not feel powerless, to not be robbed or tricked.
The reason this conversation bothers me so damn much, is because when we revert to the concept that they have a choice, we absolve ourselves of any responsibility in practicing or preventing unethical behaviors.
Yes, we do have choices in this world.
Except when we don’t.
Like when we hit a brick wall of systemic racism and/or sexism and/or misogyny and/or bigotry.
Like when we live in poverty.
Like when the “choice” is between living or being killed. (No, actually I’m not being dramatic.)
Like when the other “option” simply is out of our reach due to finances or time or life or the laws of physics.
So, sure, we have choices. Except when we don’t.
When people say, often flippantly or condescendingly, “You have a choice,” what is being implied is that if you just tried harder, things would be different; that you aren’t doing a good enough job; that clearly there is something wrong with you because all you have to do is choose differently.
It also alleviates people of their own responsibilities in contributing to factors that make it so others don’t actually have a choice. It erases their responsibility to be empathic to another’s experience. It allows people to stay stuck in the their privilege and not become aware that life and the world is very, very different for other people.
The idea of choice is often thrown at victims as an explanation for why they found themselves in a traumatic situation. Well, you chose to go to that party and wear that dress. Well you chose to live in a hurricane/tornado/earthquake zone. Well, you chose to take that job or go to that school or marry that person or have those children.
It’s all your own fault you ended up where you did.
This is what our culture would have us believe.
I’m calling bullshit.
This is not to say there aren’t times that we do have choice. Most of us can decide what to have for dinner, who we spend our time with and often how we spend our time, be it at home or at work, all within a specific set of options. Because the sky is not the limit for most of us. Most of us don’t have the option of “choosing” steak and caviar every night (or maybe even any night) for dinner; who we spend our time with is generally limited by location and the people who are actually available; how we spend our time is also limited by time, place, space, responsibilities, deadlines, resources, and often the laws of physics.
Another piece of this puzzle is how the idea of choice is thrown around about how we feel about our life. As in, we have the choice to be happy or sad, grateful or miserable, angry or accepting. And sure, in many ways, we do choose how we respond and feel about any given situation or experience.
When someone starts to tell us that all we have to do is choose to be happy, the implied messages are 1. it’s easy to simply choose happiness over being miserable and 2. any emotion other than happiness is unacceptable.
Again, I am calling bullshit.
Most people are fully conscious of the fact that being happy is much more complex than simply choosing happiness. I’m going to leave that at that, because I believe anyone reading this understands that work is involved in having a mostly happy and fulfilling life and that it doesn’t happen with simply making a choice (though that is part of it perhaps, for some).
The dangerous message is this: any emotion other than happiness is unacceptable.
This message tells us to stuff any feeling that isn’t “happy.” It tells us we are wrong for feeling any other emotion. That our feelings of rage, sadness, frustration, resentment, disappointment, fear, irritation, and loneliness are invalid.
And since they are wrong and invalid, we need to dismiss them, stuff them down, ignore them, pretend they don’t exist.
This stuffing down can work for a while. We can pretend we only ever feel happiness and bliss for a certain period of time. Eventually though, these other emotions will bubble back up, and this time bring with them feelings of shame and the stories of how we are too much (too emotional) or not enough (because we can’t just choose to be happy). And then comes more stuffing (because it’s a choice we feel like shit, right?) and so the cycle continues and the snowball gets bigger and bigger.
(This doesn’t even begin to take into account the realities of brain chemistry, physical health, the effects of trauma, or life stress factors that contribute to our mental and emotional health. These are all realities too and something to be considered and acknowledged for ourselves and others.)
These messages, these stories, of choice that are fed to us by our culture don’t hold up when we start to look at them. They are, in fact, lies that are meant to hold us down, keep us small, and make sure we are obedient to the rules patriarchal society deems appropriate. They are meant to keep us leashed and disconnected from our body, our mind, our spirit, our Self.
Let’s stop throwing around this idea that we all have a “choice” when it comes to what life doles out to us and how we experience our life. Because while, certainly, yes, we each have choices we can and do make, there are any number of factors that influence those choices and/or give us limited options.
Let’s start to give each other and ourselves the benefit of the doubt, that given our personal options, we are doing the best we can.
Let’s stop shirking our responsibility and roles in spreading these stories that contribute to our collective shame and ideas of being too much and not enough.
Let’s start showing and feeling compassion for each other and our selves.
Let’s say fuck you to a culture that continues to try to keep us tied down.
Let’s rebel against these stories.
Let’s take off the leash.
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