This I believe – I believe that the thing that makes us truly human – in all its grubbiness and glory – is not the ability to communicate through language or our marvelous opposable thumbs, but the evolution as a species of the freedom to choose. Now the fact that this ability to create choices has saddled us with two-dozen kinds of frozen potatoes and four dozen reality shows of uncertain worth may not stand as a shining example of our growth as a species. But this ability – or desire – to sometimes choose a different path from those around us makes us unlike the silver sardine, the cunning coyote or even the closely related chimp.
A choice – any choice – is just a beginning. A decision to do one thing instead of another.
Sometimes our consciousness of choice will lead to strange and useless places – dead ends. But sometimes, added up, they lead to the telescope, penicillin or the micro-chip.
Our ancestor apes did because they did – there was an instinctual reaction to the predator – fight or flight. Instead, I get to make choices about how to react to modern predators – the pesky guy who wants my parking place or the client who asks for a different answer than the one I’ve given her. I believe, though sometimes I need to remind myself, that I have the privilege of choosing to fight or to fly a thousand times a week.
I was long ago told by a valued professor that in this day and age, fighting the good fight, making the world a better place, rarely involves large and glorious battles. That struggle is made up of small battles every day. I have come to believe that these battles show themselves as simple daily choices.
And here is what is at the molten core of what I believe – that we, all of us (to varying degrees) forget to honor and love the ability to make conscious choice. With a string tied round our finger we need to remember and be grateful that ours is not a life run purely on instinct, but that we can choose every day to do things (sometimes new and different things) that benefit ourselves and others.
I believe the ability to choose keeps a marvelous mystery in our lives, a richness not experienced by other species (with the possible exception of the dog beneath my feet and certain cetaceans). And with this gift comes the obligation to choose to live a life that matters.
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