This week, my company paid for me to attend a Women’s Leadership Development Program for which I was nominated. It was a pretty sweet deal, besides the whole having to spend an entire week trapped in a conference room overflowing with estrogen and “the feels”.
One of our exercises involved differentiating things we Have to do, versus things we Choose to do. So in my workbook, I wrote a few sentences like: “I Have to earn a living; I Choose to work for this particular company,” and “I Have to eat; I Choose to eat nothing but donuts,” which seemed like a good idea at the time, until I realized that I had to share with the group (my statement, not the donuts – thankfully).
After we had gone around the circle and each taken a turn sharing our examples (which you know they wouldn’t do in a Men’s Leadership Program), we spontaneously broke into a rendition of Kumbaya. Just kidding. What actually happened is that our facilitator challenged all of our “Have To” statements.
“Do you have to eat?” she asked us.
“Well, yes,” responded one participant, “Or else we’ll die.”
The facilitator nodded knowingly. “But isn’t that a choice? You can decide whether or not you eat. If you choose not to eat, the consequence would be that you die, but it is still a choice that you make.”
A single mom with a young son had stated that she “Had” to work to support her son, and she pushed back hard on the facilitator’s comment. “Working in order to care for my son isn’t a choice; it’s something I have to do,” she expressed passionately. “It’s not optional. I can’t even imagine not taking care of him. That would go against all of my core values!”
“And the world would be a better place if more people shared those core values, but that doesn’t make it any less of a choice. It is a choice that you make, to care for your son. And one I’m glad you make. But don’t mistake it for something that you have to do. Everything is a choice, and all of our choices have consequences, be they positive or negative.”
The single mother was adamant that it was not a Choice; it was something she Had to do. For the life of her, she could not wrap her pretty little head around the concept of the Power of Choice; realizing that everything we do is based on a decision we make, whether conscious or not.
I was eminently grateful when another, older participant spoke up in defense of the facilitator’s comment. “There are plenty of single moms who make the decision not to work to care for their children. Why do you think we have the Welfare system in this country? I am glad you make the choice that you do, but there are plenty of examples of people who do not make the same choice, and we all, as taxpayers, face the consequences of their actions.”
She went on about the socioeconomic and political implications of more people understanding and embracing the Power of Choice and the concept of taking responsibility for those choices that we make. Sadly, her well-articulated insights were lost on the majority of the women in the room, but I, for one, was grateful to have discovered an insightful, intelligent colleague and kindred spirit.
If only more people had ears to hear the wisdom being shared in that room! It would transform this country – and our world – if more people not only understood but also took ownership of their Power to Choose.