Choices: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Is it really this simple? Can we really just boil it down to the choices we make, being either right... or wrong?
I thought I'd tackle this topic, because I have been accused of seeing things too 'black and white' sometimes. I will relate to another heavy topic I've discussed before: consequences.
We are facing an interesting time in our society, where somewhere along the way, I believe, we lost our way. Now if you are the Bible-reading type, there is an explanation of when, and how... but even without the bible as our guide, there are consequences; life or death consequences - that can result from the choices we make.
And I don't think those choices have to be seen as just good, or bad... but sometimes UGLY.
I wrestled with different ideas for the title to this post. I could've come at this topic from several angles. But in the end, we really can't have consequences without actions, and those actions are all based on the choices we make. And sometimes, let's face it; those choices can just be described as neither good nor bad, but just plain UGLY.
So what makes some of the choices we make, GOOD choices?
Let's complicate things a bit. I don't think the immediate actions we take and the consequence that follows directly, is enough to determine our final answer. I think it's either the cumulative effect of similar consequences happening over the long term, or possibly the doors of opportunity that open for other choices.
Let's say, I am out with my family, and we are trying to decide where we want to eat. I suggest a certain middle-of-the-road pizza place based on price, and the place ends up being a smashing success. We all leave happy, because the food tasted so good, and we left quite satisfied. Good choice on Dad's part, right?
What if I told you that two hours later, all three of us spent hours without sleep because of nausea and upset stomachs? Well that changes things, doesn't it? You see, sometimes we can't always tell what the end outcome will be by our choices; even when we think we are making a good one.
So how can we make a good one?
Society has become more apt to make a decision based on impulses, and less on information. The cliche, 'make an informed decision', is actually something we might want to take a long look at... I mean as a planet of people!
Because I can take the little pizza place scenario, and break things down, and even describe how something like that could have been a more informed decision.
'How's that, Jason?'
Well I will tell you how. We live in the INFORMATION AGE, so even something like visiting the right pizza place and avoiding an upset stomach, might be possible. And again, there are no guarantees in life, other than we are born here, and we die here. What is before and after those things is physically mysterious.
But here's the pizza place choice, made by someone a little more informed - by none other than my sixteen year old; a tech-savvy, totally with-it teen, and his trusty cell phone. Due to intense googling, reading of the ratings, and an in-depth analysis of the menu, my son determines that we would be better off springing for a few more bucks, and attending the pizza place up the street - because their ratings are much higher; there were virtually no negative comments from the more expensive restaurant on their reviews and ratings. The same could not be said for the restaurant aforementioned in earlier paragraphs, and therefore our family digestive crisis is averted!
Good choice, son!
Getting a little more serious, I can look back over my life (and history), and friends' and family members' lives, historical figures' lives, and perhaps even some celebrities' lives - and give examples of what we now know, were good choices. Time has proven it; an overall approval by anyone with a decent level of awareness of quality of life would probably agree with these examples. So let's look at some good choices I think have been made by people through the years.
Let's start with the obvious: My father decided to pursue a relationship with his childhood sweetheart, and several years later - I came along! Phew! Score one for Dad. Good choice, although I am obviously biased. Moving on, but on the same subject...
Dad makes an early decision to make the family the center of his life, and make the church the center for the family. Sure, we may have strayed off course like other families do - but that foundation led to me doing the same for my family... and lo and behold; my son is baptized and takes on the same Christian faith. To other believers, my dad made a pretty good choice a long time ago.
What about history? Think George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and men from their time and place - what does that bring to mind? If you said America, you're right. If not for the choice those men made, along with groups of men and women just like them, to fight a governing body of tyranny and unjust control - then we wouldn't have America... at least not the United States.
Good choice, patriots!
What about some friends of mine? I can think of men and women I know; folks I knew well, who made some big choices to pursue careers in the ministry or mission field. In some situations, they've even put themselves in danger. But they made lasting impacts on other people's lives; some helping people young and old make certain good choices that, according to the way we believe, last an eternity. And think about all the BAD choices those friends of mine have avoided along the way, when they took their good choices seriously and continued wholeheartedly in that pursuit.
Good choice, friends!
What about celebrities? Famous people in, dare I say, pop culture. We will look at a certain athlete, who played for the Clemson Tigers. He wears #4, and now plays in the NFL. Everyone that meets him, everyone that interviews him, and everyone that coaches him, speaks highly of his character. This quarterback - we'll call him Watson - devoted his life to pursuing a lifelong dream to the best of his ability, worked hard for his mother, worked hard at everything he did, and stayed humble along the way. Now look at him. He is wealthy beyond most people's wildest dreams, stays humble, gives money to great causes, and always remembers where he came from. Not exactly what you think of when you think of most celebrities these days. But it all stems from a choice he made long ago, to make the right things a priority, and not get pulled into doing the wrong things to distract him along the way.
Good choice, Watson.
Do the people in these examples have some secret genetic advantage over others, that just keep them immune to the evil of the world? Not at all - but they've obviously, at some point earlier in life, realized the potential negative consequences down the road, should they choose a different course. So they've also reaped the benefits of good consequences - from their good choices.
What makes some of the choices we make, BAD choices?
Following the same premise with good choices, it comes back to our ability to choose based on the consequences we want, and how well we plan ahead on those consequences. What are the possible outcomes?
Do you see where society has gotten? Can you see how being impulsive makes it a lot harder to make a good choice? One first has to have the awareness of the potential of bad consequences, in order to avoid bad choices.
Looking back at the pizza place, if we knew about a history of under-cooked meat, or bad cheese, and yet only lived for the taste of the grease and crust and pizza goodness - but still decided to go to that restaurant, despite all the evidence from reviews of the potential danger of food poisoning or nausea...
you guessed it; BAD CHOICE.
But forget hypothetical. Let's look at some bad consequences, due to bad choices:
I knew a young man who loved to have fun. There are plenty of people who love to have a good time, and partake in activities that often pertain to ingestion of some alcohol. A lot of the time, it seems like nothing bad happens, other than drunkenness or a bad hangover. However, too much of anything is not a good thing. This same young man drank too much one night - and never woke up.
Although this is a tragic situation, it still came back to one thing - a BAD CHOICE.
And what stinks about choices about mind-altering substances? The fact that it might effect one's ability to make other choices; that's what.
Think about some of the athletes we see in professional sports, or even in college athletics. Some of these young, vibrant, athletic and fit athletes have everything going for them. Then the young men or women are placed in a situation where they can either decide to go home early; maybe study for that test, or get enough rest for the upcoming week of hard practices...
Or, they can do something because it feels good, or tastes really good; better yet, makes them more popular with the crowd of people already giving into impulses.
Then one thing leads to another. The athlete gets drunk, loses control of emotions, and gets into a drunken brawl. Or perhaps slinks off with a prostitute (or maybe a cop who he thought was a prostitute).
Then the cops show up. The athlete gets arrested. He or she loses their scholarship. They get fined or fired from their professional team. They no longer have a way to earn a living, and might not even have a backup plan. Next thing we know, they're working in a kitchen or grocery store. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But what did the athlete do with their potential?
Bad choice, athlete...bad choice.
Husbands give in to the impulse to cheat on their wives. They get caught, and end up in a divorce. The couple had kids, who are impacted by the divorce. Of course this works in the other direction, too. But think of it - the ripple effect that occurs, and the catalyst of it all - one - bad - choice.
Children hear what mom and dad tell them they are supposed to do and not supposed to do. The children don't listen. They either get grounded, or get spanked.
Oh - wait...sorry, I just had a flashback. That used to be the way it was done.
But I digress; you get the picture. It's pretty easy to tell; the biggest difference in good choices and bad choices, for the most part, comes down to how much information we base the choices on, how much we think about the choice before we make it, and how easily we give in to emotional impulses.
But what about - the UGLY choices?
See, I didn't say all choices can afford to be thought out and planned. There are moments when we have to make a decision, instantly. The choice in those situations could save a life, or end it. The choice we make, especially in the medical field, or law enforcement, or military, or in any emergency, can be downright ugly.
Because in situations like that, we might not like what we have to do to make it a good choice. We might not like the consequences of that choice that has to be made then and there. The end result could be good; it could be bad, and of course there is some subjectivity in all of this.
But a choice has to be made. The urgency of that choice, is perhaps what makes it ugly.
The cop shows up to a fight between two people on the street corner. One of the two fighters draws a gun, and lifts his arm to aim at either the other fighter, or the officer. The officer has to decide to shoot at that point, if he wants to save a life. But can he act fast enough? Can he hit the mark? Will he end another life?
See what I mean by ugly choice?
Have you ever thought about putting yourself in Harry Truman's shoes in 1945? Drop an atomic bomb on another nation, and kill thousands instantly - or keep pushing the war effort and risk more and more death? I think President Truman still holds the record for one of the most difficult choices known to man; just my two cents - but that is one UGLY choice.
In the end, choices are what we all have to make in order to journey through this life. We can make good choices. We can make bad choices. We're sometimes forced to make ugly choices.
But before you make a choice, if you have time to think about it, ask yourself this:
If you choose to do this or that, can you afford the consequences?
YOLO - You only live once, right?
Some people look at that, and think - I might not get to ever get another chance to try this.
The pragmatist in me looks at it like this:
You only live once; you might as well try your darnedest to get it right.
To close this long post, I will quote the knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indy is trying to choose the right cup for the Holy Grail.