The Power of Choice

Photo found on Flickr - I altered color saturation.
Photo found on Flickr – I altered color saturation.

Sartre famously said, ‘We Are Our Choices’. Too often I hear people blame others when something in their own life is displeasing. While I understand we all fall on hard times that are not of our making, it seems how we respond to those times is what makes us who we are. So if we are, in fact, the sum of our choices, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to use the power of choice to bring ourselves happiness?

If your preference is to continue to blame others, then by all means remain chronically unhappy and blame-on. On the other hand, if you would rather get more from life, then here are 3 more quotes from Sartre that can lead to living a more fulfilled life, by utilizing our power choice.

1. Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.

Simply put, there are a number of things that you will encounter in your life that are not within your power. Your existence was not your choice and how your life begins is not your choice. You have zero say in everything from the decade you are born, where you live, to the parents you were born to. In addition to events that will occur throughout your life, such as wars, economic depressions, loved ones falling ill. None of these are or will ever be within your control. Yet, how you react to them will tell others who are you. Hence, the responsibility of how you choose to react. While this may seem frustrating, there is real beauty in having the ability to assign meaning to your life.

You can blame the Bush Administration or the Obama Administration for the circumstances you live in, or you can find a way to achieve what you want regardless of who’s ass sits in the Oval office. Either way, the responsibility of how you are living is yours alone. Think about it – why is it the responsibility of others to provide you the life you want?

2. Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.

Basically, this means you do not come into this life with pre-assigned meaning. Your soul is a tabula rasa (blank slate); the only meaning it can be given is by the choices you make.

Here is another way to view this in terms of the life we are born into. Everyone may think they would rather be born in a specific time, to wealthy parents, allowing them to live a life of luxury. However, even those born into ideal scenarios face struggles. At no point in their life are they exempt from the responsibility of how their choices affect them. Regardless of what hand you are dealt in this life, the ability to choose what you make of it, gives you the ability to change what you do not like. While it may seem like a burden, in actuality choice is the glimmer of hope that enables a better way.

3. Our responsibility is much greater than we might have supposed, because it involves all mankind.

As if holding the burden of how your choices affect your life were not enough, now you have to worry about how it affects all of mankind too. Seems like a tall order. Really though, it is not that far fetched, as we are all connected in this world. From a large scale, the idea of the ‘pay-it-forward’ movement was based on this concept. We are connected and how we choose to behave and interact with people we have no direct connection with, still directly affects their lives. They in turn must choose how to interact with our interaction, and around and around we go.

On a smaller scale, let’s look at this from the example of someone who would be considered to be chronically unhappy in his or her life. We all know the type, year after year they remain miserable. They hate their job or are frustrated in their marriage, or both. Yet, day after day they continue the same routine, go to work and gripe to co-workers, then go home and complain about the day, only to end up in front of the TV playing video games until bed. The next day they repeat the cycle from start to finish, with no attempt at improving what they did not like about the previous day. This inaction, not only prolongs their misery, but the misery of those around them. Their co-workers dread interacting with them, their family carries the burden of not being able to help their loved one. The trickle effect of negativity permeates not only through the life of the miserable individual, but to all those in contact with them. When really the only one capable of living a better life, is the one who is not happy.

Although, your current life situation is likely to determine whether you feel like the responsibility of choice is a blessing or a curse, here is the ultimate take-away. How you feel about choice in this moment does not matter, because you possess the power to change it. Which is truly phenomenal. If you are unhappy with your life, you possess the power to change the direction your life is going. Changing habitual behaviors may not be easy, but it is possible!

Having said all this, the unhappy may very well continue to choose inaction, and there is nothing wrong with that, it is after all, their choice. For those content in unhappiness, the only loss after reading this will be the ability to blame anyone other than themselves.



* In #1 I use the example of people who will blame political administrations for their woes. To better clarify this example, I do believe their are political administrations that should be held accountable for immoral and unjust actions (actions both political parties appear to violate). However, those political actions are for an entirely different topic, and not what I was referring to in #1. The example from #1 is really referencing the type of blame that is too far removed from any political action to justify it being the fault of a sitting President or his administration. It’s the, ‘I lost my job, it’s Obama’s fault’ type of blame, when there is no logical reasoning that would in any way justify that claim. Generally speaking, individuals making these claims still have a wealth of opportunities available to them – they need only to refocus on what they can do.

#1 & 2 are from Jean-Paul Sartre, Being & Nothing
#3 is from Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism & Human Emotions
Regarding #1 – For Sartre, this condemnation is due to man not creating himself or having a creator, yet regardless of this man is still responsible for his actions. For the purpose of living a fulfilled life, I do not think individuals need to denounce a creator (i.e. God). Regardless if you believe in a creator or not, your actions are still your sole responsibility.

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