Choosing Differently: It’s Not That Simple
This is my (slightly edited) response to a author's post on another blog, where the author contended that being a victim to circumstances – or rising above it – was always a matter of choice. I felt strongly, so I responded:
Perceptions of choices
“I think I can see the point you are making here – that because you perceive that you have choices, then other people should be in the same position.
There are a couple of reasons that I can’t agree. The first is that my academic training in infant and childhood development quite clearly shows that the influences that an infant, child and adolescent are exposed to shape the very structure of their brain. Through this shaping, certain responses become habituated in them, but even more profoundly, certain forms of thinking become habituated. Our forms of thinking are tightly interlaced with our emotional beings, which becomes the single most powerful informant of the way the world looks to us.
On the margin
Secondly, this is reinforced by the clinical work that I do. Time and time again, I see clients who, through no fault of their own, just don’t seem to know some of things that I know. Clients who have never been able to reflect on the things they do. Who cannot differentiate themselves from other people. Who require – not just ‘prefer’ – constant levels of active support to have their core self remain cohered. When they don’t remain cohered, many people start to lose the ability to function as parents and partners and employees, and when this starts it can turn into a deterioration that becomes harder and harder to stop, let alone recover the lost ground.
In essence, not all people always have the same choices that we do, and even when they do, they can’t always see them. Even for those that see them, a significant portion cannot reliably and consistently carry them through.
And this is just the results of a ‘normal’ upbringing. I’m deliberately leaving out the extreme cases here where lives are significantly compromised through events in their formative years.
The suffering of others
Another important point is how the suffering of others can seem to destabilise us as well, and make us more anxious and thus more dismissive of the trauma of others. There is a lot more that could be said about this alone, but I’ll leave it there.
Self responsibility is about the self – people take when they can, not before, and not in response to being shamed into it.
In a sense you are right – we are all the same. But while it can be convenient to assume that others have the same capabilities as us and to judge them when they don’t, an empathic involvement in their life and time in spent in trying to understand will often reveal a deeper level of similarity. It reveals that people want to make an honourable life for themselves, earn self respect and the respect of others and look after those within their responsibility.
Working towards consistency
Their inability to consistently do this (and I’ll say it again for emphasis, inability to consistently do this) is a source of shame for them and this shame is corrosive to the small, hard-won victories they have. An off-hand dismissal of their legitimate suffering can add to this shame, and this is what they often experience.
We are all the same. But it’s not at the level you seem to think.”
– Tim Hill