Choice: Keep it Real

I was faced with a choice—turn away or duck.

The small red pickup truck had backed out of its parking space with a squeal of tires, the driver oblivious to whoever had been unlucky enough to be in the path. Luckily there had been no one. Another squeal of tires accompanied the shift to drive. The truck came right toward me and turned hard left at the last second to make the turn for the exit. The shower of rocks and sand came at me and instinctively—perhaps the choice was not conscious—I ducked behind the electric range I was dropping off for recycling. I stood up to get a better look at the driver who, by now, was at the exit onto the main road. Once again he floored the accelerator while turning hard left and the pickup spun out of control in the intersection. Another shower of rocks came at me and, this time, my van. Again I ducked as rocks hit off the range and the van. I stood up one more time to see the driver execute one final 360 degree turn in the intersection, this time with no rocks, before speeding off.

It turned out he had just been fired and this is the way he chose to voice his displeasure. Clearly the roar of the engine, screech of tires and shower of debris was meant to say, “How dare they treat me this way! It’s not fair; I’m a good person; better than them! I’ll show them I’m better than that and not to be trifled with!”

We don’t always get to have a direct influence on the happenings in our world. We do, however get to affect the course of one life—our own. Yes, there’s always the element of chance; sometimes we win and sometimes we lose based on nothing more than pure luck or the whims of others who get to hold some power over us. Aside from that, what happens to us can be affected by choices we make.

Yes, there are the big ones: vehicle, house, education/training, career, and relationships, for example. The vast majority are much smaller, things like what to eat at any given time, how to respond to others or even what to do next. We don’t give them much thought. Rather than mull over each and every one we go with a combination of beliefs, values and patterns. We tend to do what we have always done and, failing that, what we have seen our parents, teachers and mentors do when faced with similar situations.

And it mostly works out fine, but not always—hence the howling of tires and hurling of rocks.

That was just a couple of days ago; the day that municipal elections were held throughout my province so the idea of choice was uppermost in my mind at the time. Who to vote for: the incumbents, many, but not all, of whom had performed admirable service to the community in the past or the new-comers, smiling and confidently espousing of the need for a fresh approach and for new ideas?

I, along with many, but by no means all, of my fellow NL’rs made my choices.

The election has come and gone, bringing with it the usual list of returns and upsets. Some new faces, some old, all of them with much work ahead.

And choices to make.

Running a municipality is never easy. The funding is limited—nobody wants to pay taxes—and the demands are many. Infrastructure is needy; always in need of upgrades, repairs. Roads, water and sewer consume huge amounts of money. Pensions too; we have retirees and, sadly, no invested funds from which to pay them. Just promises—the stuff of politics, not the stuff of a just society—but that’s perhaps for another time. There’s little left over, but so many demands.

In the end priorities have to be identified, goals set and plans made to meet them.

And, yes, when that is done those who do not get what they want will find ways of making the lives of the ones who serve much less pleasant for the duration of their term. When it comes to people who hold public office there’s no expectation, it seems, for anyone to play nice.

It makes you wonder why people choose to offer themselves for the job. Offhand here’s a likely few, listed below in decreasing order of likelihood:

  • A sense of duty to the community;
  • Expectations from others—family, friends or co-workers maybe;
  • The need to find personal fulfillment through the enacting of public good;
  • Greed—some, not many—have personal agendas that require them to influence public policy for their own benefit; (see note below.)
  • The need to be in charge and to derive personal satisfaction by wielding power over others in the community. (Note: stories have been written about people like this. Fortunately I don’t know any personally.)

And so, around it all goes again. The veterans will exercise skills honed through years of service. The newcomers will bring enthusiasm and new ideas, sure, but mostly they will learn. Yes, they will learn the ropes; the ways in which municipal governments work. Mostly, though, they will, like the veterans before them, discover that it’s not about the fresh ideas and the new approach. They will learn that it is really about learning to put their egos—and their own ideas—aside and listening to the voices around them; the voices of their peers and, more importantly, the voices of those they represent.

Yes, choices have to be made. But no, they do not have the answers. At least not yet, regardless of how much they think they do.

The answers can be found, though. Each council has a huge amount of collective skill and wisdom. This, coupled with the ability to gather and make sense of the myriad voices of those they represent has the potential for enacting what needs to be done.

But only if, in the end, the choices made are based on what’s real.

As already stated we do get to set the course of our lives. We also get to construct the story of our lives; ideally one that is based in reality. The mind, though, can be a devious thing. It has a way of altering our memories to suit the choices that we have made. Whenever we make a decision that affects others negatively we find a way to justify it afterwards. We do this very well—so well that, after a while, the choice we made seems to have been the absolute best one. “They” deserved it. In the end, the facts be damned! This happens all the time. Those who do what is clearly and objectively wrong generally are not even aware of it. They have re-constructed the past, adding new details that never happened and omitting those that did. This matters nothing to them as their recollection is flawed.

This is because their story is not based on what is real.

For the past few days, I have been thinking of JP in the red pickup (I did a little investigating and found his identity as he damaged my van and almost damaged me). Doubtless his version of the story has added, fabricated, details of grave injustices done to him by his former employer. The story likely does not include running his truck at me and the two showers of rocks hurled at me and at my van. Most importantly, his altered version is likely the version he now believes is the true one.

We’re all wired up like that as kids and part of growing up is learning to separate what’s real from what’s not.

I wish all those newly elected to serve in our municipalities the very best. Please try to make it all about what’s for real. Leave your egos at the door. Keep your eyes and ears open.

The choices you make now are not just for you; they are for all of us.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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20 Responses to Choice: Keep it Real

  1. jennypellett says:

    Isn’t it interesting how an unfortunate event like the one you describe at the beginning can set off a whole chain of thoughts to arrive at a positive message for the greater good while on the way cogitating over what’s real and what’s fabricated. This was, as usual, Maurice, a thought provoking piece and it sets off chains of random thoughts in my head which may, or may not, end up as a future post somewhere along the line…thank you for making me stop to think about reality…

    • Thanks, Jenny. Yes, down through the years I have seen so many misrepresentations of reality, and most of them unintentional. I think that people often relate the version they wished had happened and, over time, forget the parts that were fabricated. Of course this is just one more reason why eyewitness accounts are so untrustworthy.

  2. Life is fragile, when you talk of events such as these, the choices we make when we cannot control our path, yet every event is connected to something and the choices we make in dealing with them is paramount to out health and every day happiness. Interesting read Maurice. We can’t control events but we can control how we chose to deal with them.

  3. Interesting dissection of that one small bit of the human psyche which, as you pointed out so well, is able to reconstruct personal history. I realize your point here is larger but this phenomenon is the one which has always captured my attention. It’s a fascinating to wonder how much of what we think of as personal history is actually real? I’m not enough of a psychologist to know. Your other point is well made but a very tall order. You’re asking elected officials to act with the best interest of all those who elected them in mind? Surely there some who endeavor to do that … and those are the ones who fail to be re-elected. The others, those who act in the best interest of those who will assure their re-election, also known as ‘special interests’ … are surely more common. Your words are those which all of us should live by. But, human nature being what it is … few do … just ask JP and perhaps his ex-boss. D

    • One of the great gifts that universities can give is is truth, plain and simple. While others can feel free to mess around with the facts good research gives us results that are replicable. I say this on a day when some new information shows that the much-maligned Neville chamberlain may not have been the disaster he has been portrayed as being. It may have taken some time–and those with ‘agendas’ may have had to leave the scene but, in the end the truth–at least some of it–has come out. That will not always be the case but we can be grateful for each small victory.
      Now as for out politicians. Hmmm. OK so today everyone is talking about the finale of “Breaking Bad” a show I only took a small interest in. The main character, Walter White, seems to have undergone something of a transformation throughout the series. At the start he was likely only looking for his due but near the end it had become some much more than that–power, hate and the thirst for revenge transformed him into something he probably never figured he was capable of becoming. So too with everyone, I suppose. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

      • OK … now you’ve finally done it … you’ve opened for discussion a topic I have no experience with. Television … the family has been without since approximately 1990! Long story … but don’t miss it and wouldn’t know where we’d find the time to watch if we had it. ‘Breaking Bad’ … what’s that? Sorry! D

  4. elkement says:

    A post like an onion – multilayered and multifaceted. I had to let it sink in 🙂
    We (Austrians) are going to vote tomorrow – national parliamentary elections. I have always figured that being a politician is a tough job – you need to be cut out for this. Trying to design a social / tax system that is both just and sustainable is a task I consider more daunting than finding the theory of everything.
    I imagine it particularly difficult to react to individual cases, such as a disgruntled worker as JP appealing to you. I feel that politicians often feel forced (by the public?) to make ad-hoc changes to laws or other politicking as a reaction to, say, a specific crime or a natural disaster.
    Personally, I would prefer a more utilitarian and – so to speak – ‘cold-hearted’ argumentation, based on statistics and numbers, even if it would be to my own disadvantage as an individual.

    • Looks like its SPO and OVP. I’d say good luck to them all as the situation seems very complex. I was particularly intrigued when you mentioned that Stronach was running–I had no idea, but then, knowing who he is and what he stands for it’s no great surprise. As for people at that level being self-critical and reflective, I’d say forget it. Those people are (a) too full of their own perceived ‘greatness’ and, more importantly (b) too surrounded by arse-kissing sociopaths who bolster their egos to ever achieve anything like modesty and self-correction. They write their own stories and it’s mostly fiction.

  5. I have met many people like JP. They firmly believe their version of events is the true reflection. Politicians are no exception. I hope your elected officials will take your advice at heart!

    • Some will, of course. Quite a few, especially at the municipal level, are driven my the better forces (my #1, #2, and #3). Unfortunately, it seems that the higher you climb up the ladder the more it shifts to #4 and #5. Fortunately there are exceptions.

  6. Reminds me of running my block. why do it? Simply, to provide a better environment for everyone at less cost. Same issues, balancing a small budget, identifying priorities, and trying to keep a few people happy.

    Hopefully there will always be a few people around who are willing to put in the effort for the good of a community, whether 15 flats or Newfoundland.

    • It all comes down to the same thing: offering the gift of self in a way that takes advantage of what you do best. I think that’s generally the case, especially in smaller municipalities. As for the bigger ones or with larger governments: maybe a different matter as power comes into play.

  7. scribblechic says:

    This made me think of the Thomas theorem and the idea that if an individual perceives something to be real, then it will be real in its consequences. Surely we act on knowledge and assumptions filtered by individual experiences. I think the key is to claim ownership of our behavior, accepting responsibility for the choices we make in response to our environment.

    • That’s the truth. Why, then, do so many find themselves unable to do this? Is it because they lack the capacity for doing it or, rather, do they just see each event as an opportunity to further their own agenda, regardless of the effect on others? Or, as so many of my friends remind me, do they just not give a shit? 🙂

  8. Politics! Bravo for voicing your thoughts through such a well written piece. The ripple effect encompasses all aspects of every day life. When you choose to enter the political realm, the effects are magnified. I like how you mentioned that the resources are limited, and choices have to be made on this basis. We, the public always b*t*h that our elected officials steer the ship with their agenda, and at times, that is true. The main concern I have is that they are elected by us to serve us. If they are not able to perform the duties, should we be allowed to demand their resignation? Would this create chaos?

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