Choices

I’ve been a bit slack with this blog recently – mainly a matter of life getting in the way of everything else, but I’ve been thinking quite a bit, which is what I do.

There’s a lot going on in the world. We’ve had floods here in Australia, and there’s been the devastation of the Nepal earthquakes, we’ve more young people seduced into the world of extremist terrorism, and the news is full of sadness, disaster and destruction. Part of it is the instantaneous nature of the internet. Nowadays we hear about things immediately, via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where once we had to await reporting by a news service.

I’m often struck by the impact that choice makes on our lives. Years ago my husband and I did a parenting course. One of the early tenets of that course was about choices, and that a large part of parenting was about bringing your kids up so that eventually they’re able to make their own choices about life – and do it well. It’s probably one of the biggest worries for any parent. While your kids are at home, you have a huge say in many of their choices. Obviously, as they grow older, you give them more and more freedom, until eventually, by the time they leave home for university or work, they’re making all of their own choices.

I’m sure that most of us have at least the odd sleepless night praying and hoping that our kids are making wise choices. There’s a lot of stuff to make choices about. Some things are relatively simple – clothes, food, which bus to catch – but others are much more complicated. We’re all confronted with moral and ethical choices about what we should do in certain situations.

One of the things I’ve learnt over the years is that a choice is never made in isolation. Our lives can be very self focused. We often think about what a choice will mean for ourselves individually, but not necessarily for those around us. This is one of the hardest things to do, I suspect. Human beings are, by nature, self centred. Sometimes maturity brings with it a more all encompassing point of view. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I think we often forget that our choices can have far reaching ramifications. I think we’re often so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t think about the wider community, or we choose to ignore it.

This week there’s been a large focus on domestic violence here in Australia – and rightly so. In NSW (my home state) there are four hundred instances of domestic violence each day. This year, we’ve already seen 34 Australian women killed as a result of domestic violence this year. Although there are men who are victims of domestic violence, the vast majority of victims are women. What drives this?

Human beings can make choices. We can choose to drink, choose to remain ignorant, and choose to behave in certain ways. Some time ago I wrote a blog piece on the sexual harassment of young women in public places, and the sense of entitlement that some young men appear to have in regard to a young woman’s body. Somewhere along the way, these young men have chosen to believe that they have a right to do as they wish, no matter whether the young woman wants them to.

I wonder if this then translates into their intimate relationships? What happens when their partner disagrees with them? What happens is she says she’s tired and doesn’t want to have sex tonight? Does that sense of entitlement, amply demonstrated at a pub or club, spill over into the intimate relationship? Domestic violence is on the rise, and something is fuelling it. We’re theoretically in an enlightened age of gender equality, yet more and more we see signs that perhaps not all is as it should be.

Intimate partner violence is a choice. It has enormous ramifications upon not only the victimised spouse, but the entire family, and it then spills over into the community. We see damaged kids, who are then often educationally disadvantaged, socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged. More often than not, the cycle repeats itself in a devastating self defeating circle of despair.

I’m fortunate enough to have married a man who is everything I could ever want in a partner, and my parents celebrated fifty years of very happy marriage last year. I have no intimate experience of domestic violence, and I’m thankful for that, but my heart aches for those trapped in damaging relationships, and for those whose choices have led them down the path of violence.

What’s the answer? I don’t know precisely – I wish I did. I do know that it’s enormously important to encourage people to think – to think about their choices, and both the short and long term effects of them. The thing that I come back to time and time again, is that it’s always a choice. Bad choices are usually made out of selfishness and self focus. They’re usually about instant gratification and instantaneous short term reward. Good choices are often harder, because they involve self sacrifice, patience, and forethought. When our selfish desires are placed in the context of long term outcomes, sometimes it puts things in perspective. When children are taught to think ahead, to reason, and to look at right and wrong, and how they’d like to be treated themselves, sometimes they make better choices.

We can only hope.

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