A Matter of Choice
In Gail Bowen’s novel (nineteen in the Kilbourn series), A Killing Spring, Joanne responds to her daughter, Taylor’s, what-if: “Life is full of what-ifs, but if you spend all your time being afraid of them there’s not much time left over for being happy.”
To a large extent, it’s a choice. Happiness. Of course, some psychologists will beat me around the head and shoulders with a damp noodle for such a preposterous notion. Let them beat.
Many propose that emotions “just are.” They uncontrollably arise on their own and simply must be dealt with one way or the other. There is some truth in that, but not the whole truth. Emotions arise from thinking, and thinking can be controlled, changed even. An 18-month old child might crawl toward an interesting looking rattlesnake without a shred of fear. Twenty years later, having learned about poisonous snakes and now using her thinking prowess, fear will move the person to avoid any and all rattlesnakes.
Members of my Lutheran congregation were once encouraged to mingle with street people in downtown Vancouver, B.C.’s ragged East End in order to invite them to a free meal at one of the local United Church of Canada congregations. Many of my congregants were quite nervous about approaching people who might easily be drug users, prostitutes, ex-cons, or whatever else. But they took the step and learned that the huge majority of those encountered were pleasant, non-threatening, and grateful. The next time is was our turn to host the meal, the same folks readily volunteered for street duty. Guess what: their thinking had changed . . . thus, their emotions.
Point number two: reality bests theory 100 to 1. Namely, it happens. Emotional choices can indeed be made. Distasteful circumstances or people can result in anger or compassion. It absolutely can be a choice. In the movie Dead Man Walking a man is on death row for a horrible crime. To most people the murderer (played by Sean Penn) elicits horrendous wrath. But to the Roman Catholic nun (played by Susan Sarandon), he is a lost, beaten-down soul who needs compassion. Of course, the nun in no way excuses the crime, but she chooses empathy and caring instead of kill-the-bastard wrath.
I have stood on 8-inch-wide ledges on the sides of a cliffs looking hundreds of feet straight down. It is a fear-inducing situation, but I have trained myself to replace fear with confidence in my learned abilities and my equipment. (It is also, for me, a thrilling way to experience being alive.) The point: I should be scared spitless in those situations, but I choose not to be.
Back to the what-ifs. They can indeed ruin one’s day . . . or life. What-ifs often digress into worries. Worries can ruin one’s day . . . or life. The old adage remains that 90-plus percent of things one worries about are never realized. Go figure. And I’ve been saying for decades that every minute one is worrying is one minute of life not being enjoyed.
Joy. Happiness. Enthusiasm. Delight. These are choices. As one 14th century b.c. sage said: “Choose life so that you may live.”