Wednesday, July 28, 2010


My kids have a picture book called Would You Rather... by John Burningham which has gotten a lot of use. It present silly choices, and it makes for good interaction and funny discussions. (The link brings you to the hardcover page, but there *is* a paperback version.) It's the kind of book you send to cousins, or give to a child with siblings, because it will free up mom for a couple of afternoons while the kids quiz each other. My mom gave us our copy, and we're glad to have it.

We seem to be stuck in a dark Would You Rather... here, one where the choices run more on the lines of would you rather drown in the ocean, or be eaten by a shark? I've been in this place before; it's where you get to choose what you hope is the least-worst solution. Except in this situation we're limited to a voice-your-opinion role. It's not in our control.

There is a lot in life that we don't control. Most of it, frankly, doesn't matter. If you write down a list of the things that drive you nuts (to serve as a proxy for what you want to be in control of), I'd be willing to bet that there are few things on your list that are life threatening. Generally it's our reactions that are more life-threatening (or at least life-scarring) than whatever pushed our buttons.

In The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar writes about the research on how we make choices, why we make choices, and what kinds of choices we really want to make. Parents who are asked to decide whether to continue or cut off life support for their child are notably more unsettled and unhappy later on than parents who are informed by doctors of the possible options but told which option has been selected. This is because although we like to feel like we're in control, we don't like to second-guess ourselves. It stinks to live in an endless state of what if I'd chosen the other door.

Hence I'm aware that there's a certain blessing in not being the one who ultimately decides what is going to happen. On the other hand, the illusion of having some influence over the outcome is an ingredient of hope. We like hope. It helps.

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