The Problem Is Choice

Red Nebula ArtThere is no denying that the pandemic has caused many of us to analyze our emotional state. We have been put in a box and told to stay. Given this situation beyond our control, many of us tried to occupy the time with hobbies, home projects, and even refocused on family, but really it all comes down to how we perceive our own state: physical and mental.

At first it seems so simple, we think of ourselves on a path and along that path we are presented with choices. Some we make thinking we know who we are and what we want, some we make not knowing, some we think are no choice at all, that our freedom has been taken away and that we are somehow restricted to do something that is inherently terrible for us. Through it all we think that choice is good and that this is what we strive for, that we want control of our life and we want to make these choices.

You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.

However the human condition is an extraordinary one. We most often do not make choices, we in fact are compelled to situations in which the removal of choice is what actually makes us happy. We in fact take the blue pill more often than the red one. Simply put, we don’t want to be Neo. We don’t want the truth. What is making us miserable is choice.

A few years ago, I watched The National Parks documentary by Ken Burns and decided to venture out into nature and make that my mid-life crisis. I thought about going into the wild and confronting a bear, much like Brad Pitt meets his end in Legends of the Fall. This was the idea, crazy as it sounds. When I actually got out to the California sierra, I found that backpacking is incredibly hard and requires physical and mental strength. It took all my will power to keep going every day. This is what the attraction was to many people. They want to forget the office and all the endless tasks that they need to accomplish in order to feel productive. The hiking helps them concentrate and just move forward with something, there is no thinking involved. There is still a choice, but really you made it already the moment you decided to go out there. You just have to keep going. For many people this helps them clear their mind and they think that now they can go back to the real world and tackle the mundane tasks of their job.

Before the pandemic, I use to go to Target every week and just walk around. My shopping experience would often be interrupted by the eventful tantrum of a child. The details of which most often involved a parent who was trying to reason with their emotional child, which makes no sense if you think about it. They are a child, they are not suppose to be reasonable. The issue is that parents give their children choices now. This is totally the opposite of my upbringing where children were hardly ever given choices. You ate what your parents told you to eat and that was it. Today, kids have too many choices. They have smart phones with all the world’s music, all the knowledge, and entertainment they could ever want at their finger tips. This gives many kids anxiety, because they don’t know what they should like, what they should watch or listen to. There is an entire group of influencers to help them with recommendations, playlists, reviews, and endless opinions. Choice is too hard, when you have so many options. You are not happy. Every now and then the influencers themselves break down and admit as much.

So what do we do? Take the red pill or the blue pill? The answer will be different for each of us. Whatever paradigm you come to, what matters is what your perception is. Do you believe that climbing a mountain or facing a bear will make you whole? Maybe perhaps you think that finding ten minutes a day and drinking your morning coffee in silence is all you need, or you think forty minutes of cardio is all you need. For the most part, there is some repetition involved. You limit your time or concentration to one thing and make that a routine. Eventually that is your thing and that will make you sane. And yes, that too is a choice, but you are choosing to limit yourself to this one thing, and that is the human condition.