It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I really don’t watch much TV, a lot of it is vacuous nonsense and a complete waste of time. ‘Reality TV’ in particular leaves me cold, and not just because I’m deeply concerned about a genre that only scores 50% accuracy on it’s own name!
Soaps, in my opinion, exist mostly to help bored people imagine what their neighbours might be getting up to behind closed doors and I’m more likely to be able to tell you about the state of my favourite running path than I am to know who won the latest round of whichever talent show was on last night. Sir David Attenborough is still a national treasure though, and I won’t hear a word against him.
All this is a quite long-winded way of saying that I never expected to be writing this particular blog post. We really do live in strange times.
I was talking to a friend last night and she told me that she’d started re-watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer. See, you really didn’t guess where this blog post was going! I nodded politely and started to change the subject. She noticed my utter lack of interest and stopped me. “No, no, no. I really wanted to tell you about this. There was a moment there where she really sounded like you.”
It took me a second to put aside my slight bemusement at being told that a fictional 16-year old girl sounded like me but, once I had (and she’d laughed at me) she explained. I won’t go into the full plot line (you’re welcome) but a character was terminally ill and, in an effort to save himself, was causing the death of dozens of others. When confronted, he’d said that he didn’t have a choice.
And in that last line, she thought of me!
I stopped for a moment and thought about that. I was actually a little surprised and impressed that a teen drama from the 1990s had chosen to delve into that question and had approached it with some nuance. I also had to agree, it did sound a little bit like something I might say. And, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that the ease with which we conclude that we or others ‘don’t have a choice’ is actually doing ourselves a disservice.
We use the idea of not having a choice in some pretty everyday settings. Sometimes, we mean to say that it was an easy choice. Other times, we use it as an excuse. By saying that we didn’t have a choice we are excusing ourselves from making a choice, or more accurately, preventing ourselves from facing up to the fact that we have made a choice. We also use it to console others or to justify our own poor behaviour.
There is something incredibly disempowering about not seeing the full range of choices open to us, however. By saying that we (or others) don’t have a choice, we are limiting our own agency. We are making ourselves into helpless victims and encouraging ourselves not to push harder or try to find other options. Rather than saying that we don’t have a choice, I prefer to think of it as ‘all the other choices were worse’. That, for me, is an encouragement to keep searching for a better solution. It’s a way of acknowledging that I really did put my best efforts into finding it. It’s a recognition that I fully understand the parameters of the situation and, most importantly of all, it’s the truth.
This is not to say that there are no situations in which you don’t have a choice. I just honestly believe that each and every one of those is an extreme situation and thankfully the vast majority of us never experience it. Recognising the choices we are making, often without thinking about them, is an important step in self awareness and true accountability.
Also, I learned something about myself during that conversation.
I realised that I had been ready to discard the insight I’d been offered because of where it came from. I was mentally preparing myself to explain why this wasn’t like me at all before I’d even heard the quote. I’m lucky that I know myself well enough to recognise the signs and to intentionally lower my barriers but it was a stark reminder of the ways in which our preconceived notions can make it hard for us to take in new information.
It was a timely reminder that insight can come from anywhere, even Buffy The Vampire Slayer!