Saturday, November 14, 2009

We tend to do what's easy.

As Paul and I have been reading through the Uglies series, (We're on the third book.) some interesting themes have been emerging. Scott Westerfeld cleverly skirts all around the issue without ever actually asking the question, "Should people be allowed to make their own choices?" The story practically screams the question, but the characters never ask it directly. It's so brilliantly done, and it has caused me to reflect on the question.

Should people be allowed to make their own choices?

It seems obvious to say, "Well, of course." But when you stop to think about it, there is a sticky issue involved with that answer. If people are allowed to make their own choices, they might make bad choices. History shows the sad reality that people usually DO make bad choices. That's probably because bad choices are usually easier than good choices. It's so much easier to, say, get addicted to the drugs your friends are taking than it is to opt out or find new friends. The choice with the least resistance is the one most people will take.

Consider the Holocaust. We always stare in horrified awe at the Nazi soldiers that carried out their millions of murders and wonder how they could have done it. It's not really so hard to figure out when you see that going along with what the superiors said to do was simply easier than resisting. And now we have a huge bloody stain on our history that proves just what people CAN do with their choices.

But there's another side to all this. Sure, we all have the potential to do terrible things. We can hurt each other, stop each other from progressing, oppress and victimize and kill each other. We can even do these things without feeling bad once we get to a certain point... But every day we can make choices of the other kind. We can be kind to each other. We can give and love and serve each other. We can build each other up and work together.

Strangely, history seems to be lacking in these kinds of stories. We hear occasionally of people like Mother Teresa or Gandhi who have touched many people, but we don't hear much about all the little kindnesses that people have been showing each other since the beginning of time. Why is that?

I've been realizing that we have to have the possibility of making bad choices in order to learn how to make good ones. As terrible as it is to see all the ways that people will destroy themselves and each other, it's necessary for each of them to have choices. I should say each of us. This life-defining struggle that we all endure is so essential if we are to grow, if we are to learn. And when you make yourself into someone wonderful-- it's great to know that you chose to be who you are. No one made you be as you are and no one can choose for you. That's a comforting thought for those of us who are trying.