This I Believe

Brian - New Haven, Connecticut
Entered on January 11, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65

This I Believe

I believe our lives are governed by the choices we make. Not only by the obvious, conscious choices, but also by the deeper, unconscious ones. People often blame others for their life’s woes, saying things like, ‘this is so-and-so’s fault, not mine.’ I believe blaming the bad things in my life on someone else is making a choice to reject personal responsibility and to hide from the truth. I believe that my choices dictate most of what occurs in my life.

You may hear this and ask, ‘if this is so, then why would someone choose to have bad experiences?’ It sounds crazy, I know. Yet, I’ve learned from 25 years of doctoring that far too many people make terrible choices. Physicians regularly see the consequences of years of poor health and lifestyle choices that result in illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

At first visits, I sometimes ask patients – those who smoke cigarettes or are very overweight, or those with diabetes who refuse to properly monitor their blood sugars – ‘why are you choosing to kill yourself? Why are you choosing to die a terrible death at such a young age? Don’t you want to stay alive to see your children and grandchildren grow up?’ They usually look at me oddly because I am connecting out loud their choices about how they live with how they will likely die. But then, with all the compassion and caring I can muster, I gently remind these people that they matter; that they matter to their children, to their parents, to their brothers and sisters, to the world, and to me. And I ask them to choose to take better care of themselves so they can live for these other people, even if they themselves don’t care how they live or how they are likely to die.

Frequently, this is the time for tears as these people, who believe they have no control in their lives, realize that perhaps there is another way: they can re-consider the paradigm they had been using since they were young and choose a new one; a paradigm that permits them to un-choose old beliefs of powerlessness and adopt new beliefs of hope based on choice.

Not everyone is open to hearing this message. But sometimes, it actually works. The other day, as I walked up to the clinic, a 30-something year old Hispanic woman with brittle diabetes approached me, along with her young son. She had been the object of one of my talks about choice a couple of months prior and now informed me she was exercising and checking her blood sugars regularly, things she had previously refused to do. And she smiled and said thanks. And so did her son. And into the clinic I went with a smile on my face.

I believe our lives are governed, for good or for bad, by the choices we make day by day. This I believe.