“We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”
― Stephen R. Covey
There is a game category on a popular NPR show called, “Things I would have learned in school if I had been paying attention.” It is sometimes disconcerting to hear answers to those questions which would seem to indicate that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.
My grand-daughter, Anna Grace, has begun her school career by attending a nursery school class for three-year-olds. It seems to me that the main purpose at that early age is to begin to tame the savage impulses and get the children to cooperate in a group. Not being the most compliant soul you ever met, she has had some lessons to learn, some more difficult than others.
The first was that her teacher frowned on her merrily racing away to the far corner of the playground when the class lined up to go inside from recess, and then dashing away as the teacher came after her in hot pursuit. (And since it was fall in the South, I’m sure it literally was hot pursuit). Another lesson was that it is not permissible to give a girl a shove, even if she did push you first. And it also isn’t okay to jump in line ahead of someone even when you say “excuse me” before you elbow them out of your way.
Her teachers use a method that I admire, which is to encourage the children to think about their actions and slow down the automatic impulses. They ask, “Do you think that was a good decision?” And the child has time to consider that they DID make a choice and what the outcome of that choice was. Tying together behavior and consequences…something that continues to be a life-long challenge for some.
The other day Anna Grace and her mom were going to take the dog out for his morning walk, and she wanted to bring Scout, a stuffed dog along. As they went through the neighborhood, Anna Grace asked to hold Mudslide, the greyhound’s leash. Her mom said that would be okay until they got to the end of the sidewalk and then she would take the leash back, because the street was nearby.
They proceeded to the end of the sidewalk, her mother took the leash back, and Anna Grace began to protest. She was clearly not ready to give up the leash. When her mother insisted, she started to cry and yell, and threw Scout down on the ground and stomped a few steps away.
Her mother (calmly), “Pick up Scout and come on.”
A.G. (yelling), “No, Mommy! I am so mad at you! YOU pick him up!”
Her mother scoops up Scout, Anna Grace and marches them and Mudslide back to the house and informs Anna Grace that she will have a time out. They get inside, Anna Grace still yelling, and she is deposited on the stairs in her time-out place to get herself collected.
Her mother asks, “Do you think that what you did out there was a good decision?”
Anna Grace (with renewed fury), “I am still so MAD at you Mommy! I don’t WANT to make decisions!”
When I heard this story I chuckled but could understand her sentiments. I don’t always like making decisions either. Or more to the point, I don’t like having to be accountable and deal with all the consequences of those decisions!
But one thing that I learned in school (and in the “School of Life”) is that we indeed are responsible for the consequences that we set in motion with our decisions, whether we thought about them in advance, or even intended them, or not.
And, like any three or four year old, most of those decisions are decided on the basis of our emotions. In many cases, our rational thinking is brought in later to justify or explain why we made that choice, after the fact. You can be sure that the red convertible being shown by the model in the mini skirt is not being purchased primarily for its fuel economy!
Or watch a home shopping channel for 15 minutes if you want to see the hypnotic emotional spell being cast over viewers who have their credit cards out to purchase items that suddenly they “need” but would never have thought of before sitting down to watch.
Everyone has likely had the experience of saying something in an argument that they later regret or felt embarrassed by. Who hasn’t regretted making a callous remark about someone or to someone who didn’t deserve the unkindness?
When we are stressed we are especially prone to make poor decisions. We are less likely to think things through, and more likely to strike out or act out on angry or desperate impulses. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are responsible and as such, need to make amends or clean up the mess. And being human, we can have the grace to forgive someone else as well as ourselves.
Perhaps it is from the perspective of age that it occurred to me the other day that our lives are a sum total of the decisions that we have made. True, sometimes events happen to us that we cannot control. I’m not suggesting that we are to blame (ugly word, I think) for everything that happens. But even in those difficult or impossible to control circumstances and events, we go on making decisions about what to do and eventually, what those events mean to us.
Some people are amazingly resilient; they recover and live rich and full lives. Others become embittered or apathetic and give up or live reduced lives. Whichever path we choose, we ultimately are responsible for what we have made of the talents and resources we are given.
If you are not happy with yours, I recommend that you work on forgiveness and free yourself to change your life in ways that are meaningful and pleasing to you. After all, the choices really are in your hands.
“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”