When I was a sophomore in high school, somehow the topic of abortion was brought up in a politics/sociology class. We were asked to raise our hands for pro-life/pro-choice (looking back, perhaps a dubious things for a teacher to ask, but there we are), and I remember raising my hand for “pro-life.” We were pressed to explain ourselves, and I don’t know if I spoke up or thought to myself, that I would never have one, that it seemed wrong to terminate a pregnancy.
As I’ve gotten older, I can realize that I can believe both those things, and, not limit the choices of other women. That being pro-choice does not mean being pro-abortion (but kudos to the pro-life marketing team for implying that if you’re not pro-life, you must be pro-death).
We all have choices to make in life. But before we can make a choice, we need to have options from which to choose.
I’m all for individual responsibility, but it saddens me when we ascribe a “poor decision” to someone without considering that maybe they made the best choice from the options they had.
Maybe someone living on the street was being abused at home and their best option was to flee and remove themselves from the situation. Maybe someone working for less than minimum wage doesn’t have time to look for another job because they have kids at home and a chronic illness and some money is better than no money.
I’m lucky and privileged to have grown up surrounded by choices. I never had to weigh food versus rent, health versus work. I had the security of knowing that if I got into trouble, I had a safety net of family love and money to catch me. I could make a “wrong” choice and still end up on my feet, somehow: nothing was or is life-threatening. There is freedom, then, in making choices rather than pressure (despite what my anxiety tells me, but that’s a different story).
How would I look at decisions if I was forced to choose between two essentials and only be able to pick one? What if every choice was frying pan or fire, rock and a hard place? As a nation founded on individualism and this American Dream of ours, it’s hard to remember that we don’t all have the same choices in front of us. The reasons why are complex and layered and my hunch is that many of them point back to ensuring a hierarchy that keeps rich, white men in power and wealth.
I’m starting to realize that it’s not the choice of the individual that is worth trying to change, or talk people out of. The work must be in dismantling the system that gives them such shitty choices to begin with and then judging them for making a “poor decision.”
I don’t remember when I moved from the kid who thought she was pro-life to being adamantly pro-choice, but I do know that learning about the types of situations that would necessitate having choice rather than being forced into a decision, learning about the different values and priorities of people different than me, and understanding that the lens in which I view the world is mine and I cannot force it upon anyone else, all taught me that choice is first a noun, something you have to have, in order to make a decision.
I’m not perfect here—I do spend a lot of time first judging why someone does something a certain way, from walking on the left side of a path to rolling through a stop sign to voting for a racist asshole. But then the key, before acting, is to remember that we all do the best we can with what we have, and they may not have the same choices I would. And if I continue to think about one person’s behavior, and care enough to want to change it, I look to how I can improve their options. Their choices.
I’m working my way through this list of words that have changed in meaning for me over time.
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