Saturday, 4 August 2007

You get to choose

I have a friend. Hard to believe, I know, but I do. At least I consider him a friend. In fact, he is one of my "official" friends certified by Facebook. So there's no denying it.

I'll call this friend Byron, primarily because this is his name. Hard to believe, I know, but it is (and if I was going to make up a name, I doubt 'Byron' would be in the frame...). He's also American. Not that there's anything wrong with that either. Some of my best friends are American. Byron, for example. (This is beginning to go round in circles.)

Now Byron likes his food. I'm not saying he's fat, because he's not. He's big, as in tall (I would guess around 6' 3") and he's not skinny. But he does like his food. Perhaps this is linked to the fact that he is American, I don't know. He particularly seems to like it when there is a wide range of choices for what or where to eat (and I think this is an American thing). If you were to visit Byron (and if you happen to know him, I'm sure he'd love to see you) then my guess is that he would reel off a long list of local eateries where you might be able to enjoy lunch or dinner together (depending on what time of day you visited). "Synchronization of stomachs" as he calls it. On occasions that I have visited him, he would be able to talk me through the menus (without even looking at them) for all the local restaurants and takeaways, whether they be Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian, French, Mexican, or even, dare I say it, English or American.

The task ahead of us, then, was to pick one of these at which to eat. Now this was the stage of the process that I used to find really difficult. I would ask, "So which one do you think we should go to?", to which he would respond by uttering the four words that I didn't want to hear, "You get to choose!".

The thing is, I didn't want to choose. I felt that he was in a better position to make the choice, anyway, as he had been to these places and sampled the food and could therefore make a more informed choice. "They're all good", he would say, "you get to choose". But for some reason, I was really uncomfortable with being put in the position to choose where to eat. My protests of "but I really don't mind...!" tended to elicit the same four words in response. If I was being asked to choose for a larger group of stomachs in need of synchronization, I'd be a nervous wreck. Why did I have to choose? Why me?

And then, over a period of a year or so, the phrase “you get to choose” seemed to take on a much more profound meaning. It went from being an ever so slightly irritating prompt to get me to choose where we ate or what we would do next, to representing something much more important. I started to realise that in so many things in life you really do get to choose. Indeed, life is full of choices. Full of them. And often we feel that choices we may have made in the past may have been bad choices, or even ‘wrong’ choices. And we are now stuck with those choices. Our life is the way it is because of a choice, or series of decisions, we may have made five, ten, or even twenty years ago. And that’s that. We’ve made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Well, whilst I believe there is definitely some truth to that statement (in that we must live with and deal with the consequences of our choices), it is important to also remember that you always get to choose. Just as you got to choose back then, you still get to choose now. You can choose to change things whenever you want. Just because you have made your bed it doesn’t mean you have to lie in it. You could unmake the bed if you wanted to. You could choose to lie on the floor instead. Or you may choose not to lie down at all. Having made your bed you may decide you feel like jumping up and down on the bed, throwing the bedclothes out of the window, and weeing all over the mattress. I mean, it is your bed after all. Just remember, if you do choose to do this you will at some point probably need to retrieve said bedclothes and find a way of getting rid of the smell of urine. But hopefully you get my point.

Of course, the reason why we often feel as though we can’t change our minds once we’ve made our choice is that it can be difficult to feel as though we have the right to change our minds. Also, we may feel that it gives the impression of being indecisive and that would be awful to be thought of as indecisive, right?

Sometimes, though, there can just be fairly simple, but surprisingly strong, social pressures that prevent us from changing our mind. Let’s go back to the example of choosing restaurants that I lured you in with (“do we have to?” I hear you cry… no, we don’t have to, but on this occasion, I get to choose). Let’s imagine that I finally gave in and made a choice of restaurant. We go in and are shown to a table by the waiter (ooh, get him, waiter service), who then presents us with the menus before leaving us for a few minutes before he comes back to take our order. Now at this point, we haven’t eaten anything or even ordered anything. But what if, at this stage, you decide that you actually don’t want to eat at this particular restaurant? Maybe you feel that it’s actually a bit expensive or there is nothing on the menu that takes your fancy. Or maybe you feel that the waiter wasn’t very friendly, or the place it too dark or cold, or too bright and warm! Whatever the reason, you’ve changed your mind since you walked in. Now my bet is that you would find it quite difficult to tell the waiter that you’ve changed your mind and that you’re going to leave, or simply get up and walk out. At the very least, I would imagine that if you were to leave you would feel obliged to give an excuse to the waiter to explain your about-turn (“we have just had a phone call to say that our cat/aunt/friend has been run over/taken ill/won the lottery and we have to go and scrape her off the road/take her to the hospital/get pissed!”). More likely, however, is that you would politely remain seated and stay in the restaurant you have now decided you don’t like. Because there are strong social pressures that make it hard to act upon your change of mind. If you want to test this, then try it. It’s harder than you think.

But the fact remains that you always get to choose. You always have a choice.


  1. Could you have chosen to make your point in a smaller amount of words?

    My eyes hurt.

  2. You made me miss Byron