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The write up is yet another in the series of self-awareness and understanding myself on a deeper level. With a simple trigger, I came to understand an important concept - how, without even giving it a deserving pause, we make choices for others. We mostly have the best in mind for the person - the best from our perspective, our subjective best. In the following write up, I’ll be walking through my thoughts on choices, perspectives, and working to make myself a little more accepting.
Generally speaking, we are making decisions all the time. From the moment we wake up - even the decision of waking up - till we sleep. Despite the omnipresence of choices, I still fail to understand them. Choices still intrigue me - how the same choice in a similar situation in different lives is different! Phew! Let’s help ourselves understand it more simply.
Suppose we have to buy headphones - this is the situation. We have a set budget, and we have the know-how of what’s good in a headphone. Great! Now, imagine how the choice goes - first when you are buying it on behalf of a very close friend and secondly for yourself. Speaking for myself, I would be easily able to pick one for my friend. However, in the latter, all I would end up is in a mess of 10 choices where I wish I had the money to buy all of them. I am simply not able to choose JUST ONE!
This nature of choices tickles my curiosity. The same situation, same intentions, and almost same outcomes - yet different processes. This is not it though! I would feel lucky if it were to stop here. When choosing those headphones - in the two different situations - what did I look for? The same attributes! Isn’t something off here?
I’m choosing the headphones for my friend and I’m looking at the same qualities as for myself. What if I love bass more and treble is their thing? On a more subtle note, what if they enjoy listening to the outside world along with their music? And I feel a headphone without noise-cancellation serves no purpose, so it’s a must for them! The fact that I’m able to justify making choices based on what I find importance in, for individuals with their unique likings, is astounding. And I do it so often - forever without noticing.
Choices are akin to freedom. I feel unless we have options (material or immaterial) to choose from we do not have freedom. When we start making choices for others without presenting them to them, that’s when we are shrinking the circle of freedom for them. It leaves one with less psychological air when someone makes a choice for them. It may even be belittling - not being considered qualified enough. A trivial anecdote, it hurts an individual when they are told to quit smoking. They know the risks, they know the consequences, and they have made the choice. That choice is being disrespected and belittled here.
Ah! It doesn’t stop there. The act - making choices or hinting some choices are better than others - may also lead to priming. I mean, it would take a lot of courage to say “Nah! I enjoy Daler Mehndi” in response to “I’m sure you’d love this song by Ariana”. “Yeah! Yeah! No doubt!”. The pressure communicated here… the terms for acceptance have already narrowed the choices and now shame, embarrassment, and expectation have determining roles to play. Looking back, with time and repetition, the same has changed me. For good? For bad? I can never be certain.
I confess I’ve done this a lot. From seemingly insignificant choices like which ice cream flavor I buy for them to deciding that my best friend should move to Bangalore - I’ve been a culprit. Anyway, I don’t see it as an issue. Even when a little effort, a slight pause, is put into understanding (asking?) what the other individual values, we grow and experience a new perspective. I’ve started to consciously leave the choice to the concerned individual. It’s difficult, riskier, and uncertain - and relieving. I feel it is a great way to express reverence for the wisdom, experience, and intellectual faculty of others.
I’ve formulated a two-step check to reduce the habit. I hope to remind myself of these questions when I have to make a choice affecting others directly.
The latter may induce a certain degree of priming. As I was discussing with a friend last night - “achieving perfection is not the aim, working towards it is”.
Another interesting question - “Will I choose differently in the situation if I was advicing my friend on what to do?” - has helped me have a clearer vision when overwhelmed. The awareness of choices and how perspectives and emotions affect them has helped me be calmer. Many a time, I’ve encountered situations that are very similar with the only difference being me or someone else as the subject. A strange yet obvious fact I’ve noticed is I’m wiser when deciding the latter case. Becoming known of and accepting the biases, I’ve been able to see situations from a third-person point of view. And hopefully, respond better and kinder.
closing my eyes, looking from the top right corner of the room, and observing the situation without involvement, judgment, or any evaluation.
I’m thankful to Yashraj Motwani for the inspiration or seed that was nurtured into this beautiful self-awareness process. I’m fascinated by his analogy that all individuals are ML models and everyone is collecting different data. We share data through interactions, and the day we stop training ourselves on this constant new data we cease to grow. The flow of new perspectives makes me aware of the colorful, exciting, and happening world out there, right outside my mind.