King: We are all the products of the choices we have made

Before retiring, Guest Writer Darrell King spent more than 30 years working as a teacher and counselor, the last 12 as a guidance counselor with the Willamette Education Service District in McMinnville. These days, he devotes the bulk of his time to reading, writing, walking and weeding.

Every choice stands at the intersection between what is and what will be.

Imagine a bow tie.

Starting from the left, the bow tapers to a narrow point in the center, then expands again on the right. If the left is the past and the right is the future, then the center is the ever-present, magic moment — the now — in which our choices transform one into the other.

Our present was not inevitable.

When we look back, it is often easy to see how our choices brought about the present moment. While this moment may be explainable, though, it was not inevitable.

For us to have one choice, there must have been other choices, each of which would have led to a different present.

What appears to be a shortage of options may actually be a limited ability to consider — or to imagine — more than a few of the available ones. We probably have a much greater range of choices available to us than we recognize.

And not just different kinds of choices, but a variety of degrees or expressions of those choices. Those options do not exist in a catalog of ready-made items to choose from, but rather as a collection of ingredients that come together in various combinations to produce our reality.

It seems logical to believe the choice process begins when we decide a choice is necessary — a point in time when we sort through our options and settle on one. In fact, many things have happened to prepare us for that moment, starting well before we are aware.

Something helped create a state of mind that eventually brought the need for a choice to our attention. Every past value, act, and attitude was also a choice, preparing us for this moment.

Not having those old choices in mind gives the appearance that each new choice is made in isolation. In fact, the issues underlying our present decision may have been circulating at some lower level of awareness for years — a major life change such as divorce, a change of faith, or a new career, for example.
Our choices are not made in isolation. Dozens, probably hundreds of factors are involved, including not only our own attitudes and circumstances, but the attitudes and circumstances of others, and the choices which they are simultaneously making.

For these reasons, all choices have unintended consequences.

If they were visible, choices might resemble ripples on a pond after several stones have been tossed in. The ripples of our most recent choice expand and intersect the ripples of previous choices, our own and others, cancelling or minimizing some while strengthening others, thus making all but the most obvious outcomes impossible to predict.

Regardless of how many options may actually exist, the ones we are willing to consider are limited by a lifetime’s accumulation of attitudes, values and past choices. An unconscious filter eliminates those that are too threatening, strange or seriously unconventional for us to entertain.

The challenge is to make the hidden visible — to ask out loud, what is outside of our comfort zone, thus too threatening, strange or unconventional to even think about?
Once we are aware of what limits our choices, we can expand our future options. We can change our attitudes and values and possibly even reverse some of the decisions which limit what our future might look like.

Each of us lives in a world of our own. Whether it is a person we meet on the street or someone we share a house with, our lives are permanently separated from theirs. We can’t enter uninvited into another’s thought life or intimate personal experiences.

So it is that our choices are entirely our own, and open to any possibilities we are able to conceive. That means that with a single choice, we could leave behind this familiar life and the people in it. We could distance ourself in space, taking trips that introduce us to other people and places, or we could distance ourself in time, extending how much of it we spend alone or in the company of people outside our circle.

Regardless of what we think of the life we are living, it was something we have chosen. In fact, it is the product of a lifetime of choices, most of which we were only vaguely aware of at the time and have long since forgotten.


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