No Wrong Choices
Just the other day, while I was on my way to an Embodied Flow Immersion, I had a friend send me a message:
Do you remember we were driving somewhere before and we were having a chat and you were talking about how there are no right or wrong decisions, they’re just the choices that make up the stories of our lives
Fancy explaining that one again?
I told her I’d get back to her after I got off the airplane...and then I thought it would actually make a great little blog post, so here we are (a couple of weeks later :(). There’s a certain arrogance in my attempt to address the question, because teachers have been getting into this for a long time. Personally, I feel like Alan Watts summed up the problem very well in his 30-minute talk The Quaking Mess, but let’s see what can be said a little more briefly.
It really all comes down to a simple question. Who decides what is right? And who decides what is wrong? (OK, that’s two questions). And this is one of the few cases in philosophy where I’m pretty sure there are only two answers. Either you decide for yourself...or someone else decides for you. Someone will say, “But what about God?” Well, what about God? it comes down to the same thing, really. Either God is some entity who is ultimately Other from our experience, or - somehow - God is us.
That last point is not quite as clear-cut as the “Who decides?” question, for sure. People have all kinds of experiences with “God”, from intimate to adversarial (and even absent!); and sometimes the difference from one to the other is only a good night’s sleep away. It certainly seems like the experience of God isn’t going to be pinned down to something as small as two points.
But I contend that the middle ground between God-as-Self and God-as-Other is not viable, because we experience ourselves making choices and not jerking about like puppets on the end of someone else’s string. In fact, this one simple truth prevents any possibility that right and wrong are decided by anyone other than our own selves. Delegating judgement on the “rightness” of a choice to any Other is just avoiding responsibility for something we do alone, and naked, in the darkness of limited understanding.
But perhaps we are not interested in judging right and wrong in a moral sense, but in a more limited strategic one. Will a given choice lead to an outcome that is desired? Leaving aside the limits we experience through the physical sciences (e.g. jumping out of a building generally leads to falling), that’s impossible to answer. How can we know the future before we have travelled to meet it? And it’s nearly as difficult to answer the question about the past, because there are so many ways that the web of events could have unfolded differently.
So with the future unknowable, and the past unchangeable, all we have left is this moment, now, in which we choose. That choice is built on the story we remember of the past, and it reaches out to an unknown future.
There are other ways to look at the problem, depending on how you want to think about “right” and “wrong” choices (e.g. a choice can never be wrong in the way that “2+2=5” is wrong). But it seems to me that the question “Who decides?” gets straight to the most important part: judging one’s choices. Each person is her own - and only - judge. our judgements reveal our own inner dialog, and nothing more. And so we ink the pages on the graphic novel of our lives with our choices, and color in the panels with our judgements. There really is nothing else.
I hope this helps, but I’m pretty sure it’s a different approach than I took while we were on the road to that workshop...
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