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The Daunting Responsibility of Choice

By Rowan Brightmoon



One of the definitions I found of choice was the "power of choosing." How refreshing to find that even a dictionary can see that choice and power are intertwined. But what kind of power? What is the power that is found and freed in the acts of choosing?

I will tell you now that I am not going to go to my trusty dictionary to define power, for the definitions I find there are not those that I want to perpetuate. No, I choose a different definition, an idea that I first found in Starhawk's book Truth or Dare - the idea of Power from Within.

Starhawk describes it better than I can. She says that this type of power is "our willingness to act... akin to the sense of mastery we develop as young children with each new unfolding ability: the exhilaration of standing erect, of walking, of speaking the magic words that convey our needs and thoughts. But power-from-within is also akin to something deeper. It arises from our sense of connection, our bonding with other human beings, and with the environment."

Wow. It seems amazing. To be that connected to the world around us creates a sense of the impact one person can have on their surroundings. It speaks of finding within oneself a sense of inherent inner worth, not based on authority, not based in acts that are looked upon as "good" or "bad"- just the act of being creates worth. This type of power also creates an emotional response from me. Something along the lines of, "Oh no!"

This idea, while wonderful, makes a person like myself nervous. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, "So you want me to be fully responsible for the choices that I make for myself ???"

This sends off a shock of emotions, all related to the choices I have made throughout my life. Whether they lead to situations that I found pleasing or petrifying, there were no right answers, only choices. Tough to swallow.

There are many things that happen in life that we feel we have no control over. Sometimes we find comfort in thinking that things just happened to us. If we have no control, no choice, we can't be blamed, can we? It takes the responsibility out of the equation.

"I have no time to write, I have so much cleaning to do around my house, and I am at the office late working on projects four nights a week. It's impossible!"

I don't know how many times I have said this to myself, leaving out the fact that I choose to worry about dust bunnies under the bed and I choose to stay late at work to finish up on daily tasks. If I choose to clean the entire house, I can't yell at my partner because he didn't help me; it was my choice to clean the house. If I choose to spend my time watching daytime soaps, I have to acknowledge that I didn't choose to write in my journal, or any of the other things that I could have been doing.

It seems that power from within, coupled with the acknowledgment of choice, leaves very little room for opting out, blaming others, or blaming a situation. One of the biggest fears the comes with this idea is that if we are responsible for our choices, there is no way that people can support us when we fail. If I own up that I chose to quit my corporate job to open my own store, what if my store goes under? Who will be there to help me through it? I read once that choice confers responsibility, not blame. I choose to define responsibility as 'being accountable'. When I am responsible, I am accountable for my actions, whether they garner praise or scorn. When I acknowledge that I have choice, I have to take the good with the bad, stand on my own two feet, and be accountable for my actions, my speech, any everything else I do. No one said it was going to be easy. But no one said that caring individuals, whether they be friends, family, etc. wouldn't be there to help me in the situations that I have created.

Choice can also be freeing. It can begin the process of letting loose of patterns that are destructive, annoying, or outgrown. Yesterday, I chose to go to work. Yes, I experienced the same disillusionment and lack of fulfillment in my job that I have felt every other day, but I did it. It was my choice. Tomorrow, I can choose something else. I can choose show a different example at work. I can choose not to go in to work at all. I can choose to start my own business. I can choose to reclaim my own power through acknowledging that I have the power to change my own circumstances. Things don't just happen to me, day after day. I can change them. And that's a powerful understanding.

How can we work with choice? How can we find within ourselves the voices that will lead us to responsible change in our lives? Power, through responsible choice, takes thoughtful action- where should one begin?

I have found that working with the elements has helped to give me a starting point. Each year I pick an element to focus on that reflects the areas I want to change. This year, I have chosen Earth because I want to learn how to listen, to witness other's growth, and to honor that growth without interfering. I wanted to learn not only how to have choice in my life, but to allow others to do the same.

Other elemental lessons about choice could include:

Air: I choose to learn about communication. I choose to speak for myself, using "I" statements, because I know what I think, but I can't necessarily comment on what others think. I choose to balance other's opinions as having just as much value as my own. I choose to value communication over having to be "right" and therefore I choose to be a courteous communicator. I choose to learn about my power through words and communication from the element of Air.

Fire: I choose to learn about what makes me come alive. I choose to take time out of my day to do what nurtures me spiritually, even if the laundry waits. I choose to find my own path to happiness, and to let my enthusiasm encourage others. I choose to celebrate life. I choose to learn about my power through my expression of my uniqueness from the element of Fire.

Water: I choose to feel, even if those feelings may not be comfortable. I choose to acknowledge that how I feel may not be how others feel. I choose to find healthy ways to express my emotion. I choose to ask others how they feel, instead of assuming that I already know what they are feeling. I choose to learn about my power through my experience of emotions from the element of Water.

Remember that these are choices. You can take all of this or leave it. But I encourage you to take a look at your life and the choices you make. Image what would happen if you stopped giving the power of your life over to the circumstances around it. This can be a very hard process. In a world where shoulds are more prevalent than coulds and we are taught that we have very little power, it can be a hard shift to acknowledge the innate power of choice. Change doesn't come overnight, but eventually it does.

I didn't choose to do laundry today. I thought it could wait. I didn't choose to read a book, watch some TV, or go running. I chose to write this article and you choose to read it. And you can make the choice to celebrate and claim your power.


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This page last updated June 5, 2005