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Power of choice

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With Lorraine Lusinje:

How much does it register with us as we conduct our day-to-day business that our greatest strength in the world might as well be the power of our choices? We all have the power to shape the world and touch other people’s lives through choices we make that manifest themselves in actions we take.

Some decades ago, Earl Nightingale orated a very interesting anecdote: Two boys were raised by an alcoholic father. As they grew older, they moved away from that broken home, each going his own way in the world. Several years later, they happened to be interviewed separately by a psychologist who was analysing the effects of drunkenness on children in broken homes. His research revealed that the two men were strikingly different from each other. One was a clean living teetotaler; the other a hopeless drunk like his father. The psychologist asked each of them why he developed the way he did, and each gave an identical answer, “What else would you expect when you have a father like mine?”

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We meet many people in our lives. Circumstances take us by surprise all the time. We meet many situations that may be unique to us or part of what almost everyone else experiences at some point in life e.g. the death of a loved one, sickness, financial strain, failure and heartbreak. One thing certain about life is it is never a perpetually rosy affair; it is complete with ups and downs and no one is immune to them.

We will definitely react to complex situations we come across in life and our reactions will vary from person to person. For instance, when we come head to head with the ugly face of failure, some people coil in and give up while others take failing as a slow-down signal that will make them tread carefully but stay on course and, for others, failure will be regarded as a trampoline that has the potential to propel them to greater heights with no inhibitions.

A disclaimer before I move forward: our choices in life are not only important in the face of adversity but even in the face of our endowments and advantages e.g. authority, influence, good looks, riches and status. Sometimes, people are blessed with gifts that can change the world or touch other people’s lives in different ways. We can use our riches to help the poor or we can use our influence to advocate for those that are marginalised or abused.

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Ultimately, regardless of what we are faced with, we all have a choice. At any point in life, we have a choice. Most of us limit our choices because we do not want to face the consequence or surmount the discipline needed to achieve an end. Sometimes, we pretend we had no choices just to give excuses for our actions and behavior. I could opt not to take a job because it requires me to work on a weekend then keep lamenting about being jobless and broke and not having choices. Yet essentially, I have made the choice not to take a job just because I do not want to work during a weekend. I traded the job for ‘liberty’ to relax on weekends. It is all a matter of choice.

At the end of the day, life is indeed what you make. Just as in the anecdote by Ear Nightingale, the two brothers had choices as to how their father’s behaviour will shape their lives. One recognised that the father’s drunkenness had a negative effect and he should not take the same path and consequently negatively affect others as well. His father’s behaviour was a motivation for him to be different. On the other hand, the other brother used his father’s behaviour as an excuse to adopt poor behaviour and have a ready ‘justification’ for it.

We should not underestimate how much responsibility we have over the choices that manifest themselves in our actions. The little or huge choices we make on everyday basis will one day define our lives. They will one day be a summation of our lives. Circumstances affect us but our choices define us. Who we really are comes out when we are faced with both adversity and advantage. As James Allen said, circumstances do not make the man, they reveal him.

I rest my case.

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