I have not been consistently convinced that I always, always have the ability to choose my response to what happens to me. I am at the stage of my life now where I know this: the fact that we can choose – without fail – a response, makes all the difference in the world.
I am an emotional processor. What this implies is that I am prone to reacting emotionally to events, things and people. For the best part of my younger life, this meant that I operated from this default position. I often heard people (like my dear, dear wife!) say that I was able to choose my response, but I found it challenging to apply this principle in my life.
Let me try and illustrate this.
The world is simultaneously an incredibly beautiful and a terrifying place. While we may find it relatively easy to respond positively to beauty, harmony and acts of kindness, it is not as simple to respond to events/occurences that we perceive as threatening or unpleasant. As I am writing here, wildfires are raging in Australia, the quality of South Africa’s education system is being debated and the US and Iran are not the best of friends. I cannot (by choice) do anything to change these situations, but I can choose my responses. Although I may feel dismayed (emotional processors are likely to go there), I can choose to accept the reality of suffering, as well as the small things I can do to make the world a little less awful.
Being upfront and honest about the stark reality of suffering may sound slightly negative or pessimistic, but it is how it is. Neither I nor Greta Thunberg is going to change this. The world is a hurting, broken place, filled with injustice and pain. I cannot (by making certain choices) change this.
But my reaction? That, I can choose.
If I choose to be compassionate, I can look for a way to make a difference, which is not as simple as sharing a Facebook post. I need to do something that has results or a measurable outcome, like choosing kindness and acting in accordance with my choice.
Another example: If I choose kindness over hatred, I can immediately act on this by interacting in a kind way with someone. I may pay for someone’s parking, give someone a space in traffic or something similar. Making this choice is empowering, it leaves us feeling less overwhelmed and helpless and subconsciously encourages us to do more of these things that make us feel good.
There will always be countless reasons to feel hopeless and dismayed at the state of the world. Suffering is not going to disappear in anyone’s lifetime. We cannot change this.
But we can choose how we respond. This is a crucial objective that we need to pursue if we are to grow as human beings and move closer to our full potential.
If we fail to believe this, we may end up perpetually feeling like victims who have no (or little) control in our lives.