True freedom is a life lived in full control over one’s choices. But when you think about how this really works, it becomes obvious that few of us enjoy freedom to that extreme. Attached to every “choice” is a parasite called “consequence,” that tangible aftermath of any choice, good or bad. Want your neighbor’s new Cadillac? You can choose to simply steal it, but the obvious consequence of that choice — a charge of grand theft auto — is not particularly pleasant.
The phrase “freedom of choice” is a promise without a backbone, essentially an empty philosophical phrase because the real determiner of action is not choice, but consequence in any situation. What steers our course in life is not so much whether we have choices but our acceptance or declining of the consequences of those choices. I have blathered several times here about my desire to work while traveling. The choice to do so has always been there. What’s kept me from shucking it all and heading off are the consequences of that choice. For instance, my older son lives with me and will continue doing so as he begins college this fall. And my younger, 14-year-old son lives just a few miles away with his mother. And then there’s my current job and its benefits that require me to live here. The consequences of what would happen to those three important things in my life, and not the choice, is what keeps me from vagabonding or even becoming a vagabum.
To look at this another way, consider that “choice” is a box on our flow-charted lives, whereas “consequences” are all the boxes and arrows and lines and decision points that originate from that box labeled “choice.” The challenge lies not in examining the choice box, but forecasting how everything flowing out from that box in different scenarios will look, and either accepting those scenarios or leaving the “choice” box alone, vowing to revisit it sometime later.
Some of you will remember the old TV show, “Truth or Consequences” where contestants answered silly questions correctly or suffered the “consequence” of a wrong answer by performing some funny or embarrassing stunt. Unfortunately in real life accepting a bad consequence emanating from a given choice is far from funny. I mentioned in a post a few days ago the quote from Danny DeVito’s movie character, “The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.” How I really see that phrase now is “The consequences we willingly accept determine the path we take.” Choice is but the siren, luring seafarers to the dangerous rocks, while seeing and either accepting or declining the consequences of that choice is what will sink or float the boat.