POSTED March 1, 2022
I was chatting by email with my friend June recently about the frustrations of computers when one program is not talking to another because they are of different generations or other issues. The truth is I was having the problems and she was sympathizing with a guy who had made the wrong choice of machine. She told me about the first computer she chose. It was an Apple and it was in the 1980’s. She was setting up a business with a partner and dealing with a fellow who was selling them out of his garage. He would make the modifications for ram etc. right there on the work bench. My choice at the time was set by my employer – a terminal for access to a big mainframe running IBM. Through the 1990’s and beyond the choices in computers were Apple for people who wanted better tools for graphics, and other creative elements and the IBM/ Microsoft products for business people.
But what it really said to others when you made a choice of computer for your home life was that you either:
- Cared about the world, were a good person, and could walk tall or,
- You were a money-grubbing-capitalist-weasel with no redeeming features.
While this may have been largely true, over time it became clear that some of us who were tied into a system because of our employer may have been part of the big evil machine but perhaps were not really out to end civilization as we know it. But that’s the thing about choices – sometimes they define us or give off a message to others that may or may not be true. That choice to wear a Rolex or a Swatch says something but the interpretation we put on it may reflect our own experience or sensibilities and may not always be accurate.
It is also interesting that our personal choice when combined with similar decisions by others puts us in a certain group and in so doing, the risk grows of identifying those who have chosen another approach. The othering is one nasty consequence some will make of choice. You’re a Democrat so you are not a Republican. You chose that computer type, so you are not on the right side. There may be other factors at work in your decision and your thinking may be more nuanced than the simple binary decision but that decision now sets who you are – you have made your choice.
This judgment of others based on some simple choice test is widely applied and at times entrenched in various government or private sector policies. It was common practice at one time for employment recruiters to use the Gilligan Test in asking a young man to choose between Ginger and Maryanne as this would say so much about his priorities, beliefs and would be a good predictor of his decision making going forward and in general the future ahead of him. I can recall a conversation with an openly gay friend in the mid 70’s who in such an interview pointed out the attractiveness of The Professor which must have put the recruiters into overdrive in their analysis. He got the job.
It is always interesting to me the choices made for children that in turn are then interpreted by others as their choice. Most of us are born into a household of a particular religion and do not have parents who encourage us to go out at a certain age and research which one really reflects our values. It is often the same with politics.
And what of the choices that are not really choices at all but pre-conditions for something else. If you want to have a certain online service you are choosing to adopt that companies cookie policies or policies for sharing your data. Or you are a woman and you want to marry a lad of a certain religion you must choose to adopt that religion as your own. Yikes.
Of course, it is all about the magnitude. Buying one brand of toilet paper or another is not a big deal – either one will probably be used for the same purpose and get the job done. But the choice to go to war, have a child, or smuggle that dope into another country well that opens up a very different set of consequences.
And of course at the core of it, choices come with consequences. Some are small, some are huge. Many have consequences that can be known ahead, and measured but some have consequences that can not be envisioned when the choice is made, and the magnitude unknown.
Some are the triggers for a stream or chain of consequences. That fellow who braved the trip to Australia in the nineteenth century and married another crazy risk taker becomes the beginning of a family line who are tied to that place from that point onward.
Some of the consequences from a choice we make are not shouldered by us but by others like those voters in the United Kingdom who chose to leave the European Union, or those voters who have elected various tyrants just out of spite for the previous leader. The world lives with the consequences of electing the class clown. Or the person who in high school chooses a field of study for college or university that will often set them off on a path for their studies, then on to a career in that area of study and then poof, before they know it they are pretty baked into that cake.
I think it is this link of choices and consequences that is the key to all of it. I am not a parent but the good examples of parenting I have seen beyond providing, and caring and making time, seem to have a good handle on setting out for their children what the consequences will be if they make certain choices, making sure those consequences are reasonable (to the extent they are within the parents control), and then making sure to follow through on those consequences. On a regular basis I have heard these parents last words as their teenagers go out the door in the evening to “make good decisions”.
And some choices come with commitments. Go down a certain road and there are no U -Turns allowed. That is now your trajectory, and your obligation. A buddy of mine who has a bit of a fetish about measuring risk has said that other than suicide, the only choice or commitment that can not be undone is in having a child. Buy the wrong car – sell it. Take the wrong job – find another. And yes, marry the wrong person and while not done lightly, end it. But once you are a parent you are committed to being a parent of that child forever.
I find it quite the irony that the exceedingly positive notion of choice, the freewill to make a decision from various options, is so uplifting a concept, but the reality is the choice we make is fraught with risks and consequences.
But of course, it is the duality of that interconnected relationship of choice on one side and the consequences, risks and commitments on the other that is at the heart of living.