I live a very privileged life, I know that. But I don’t want to take it for granted. I have options that many people in the world don’t have. I can move freely, say what I want without the fear of prosecution, and I can choose a career that fulfils me. Many people alive today do not have those choices, and some of them don’t know that they are restricting their own power of choice.
An abundance of choice
When it comes to choices in life, I know I’m part of a very privileged group of people. I live in Europe, I’m white, and I live in one of the most gender-equal societies in the world. While some of those aspects were down to luck, I also have the possibility to choose what to make of them.
A number of topics I like to talk about in my writing result from my privilege of making choices. There is nothing (or hardly anything) that influences my decisions. I chose to live in a tiny house, I chose to eat very little meat, I chose to grow my own vegetables. Those are all conscious decisions.
In all that I know that I don’t have to be concerned about personal safety, availability or finances. I’m privileged by the education I receive and the society I live in. It gives me the freedom to think about issues I want to change in my life. I’m not constraint by my surrounds.
The unavoidable external influences on everyday life are some issues I often see forgotten in social media movements like zero waste, minimalism and whole foods. It’s fantastic to be able to make choices. BUT I don’t want to forget that there are millions of people in the world who do not have that freedom, who cannot decide to live a minimal lifestyle or to live waste-free.
This, however, does not mean that those of us who CAN make the choice should choose to continue a life of waste, over-consumption, and constant acquisition of new stuff. We need to find a global balance between those with too many options and those with too few. I’m ready to reduce my choice and to become more equal with the world around me.
My choice to move away from constant consumption of goods, services and foods is a conscious one. It is based on my search for my own well being. For me leading a life with too many choices is overwhelming. I want to reduce my choices and feel satisfied with the ones I make. I challenge myself by asking if every purchase is necessary, or if a car ride might be avoidable.
It seems that although I have the freedom to make choices, it’s more difficult to make the right choice at all times. Nevertheless, I feel very fortunate to live in a country and a time which allow me to choose the life I want to live. The choices I have to make seem simple but are actually more important because they break the norm. I choose a life away from the modern lifestyle while utilising the conditions that got me there. I continue to rely on personal safety, a decent income, good education, and the recognition of my skin. And I choose to live a life that’s simpler than I could with what’s on offer.
Choice of thought
There’s more to a life of choice than that of what I buy. There is another and much more powerful possibility to exercise my ability to choose. I can choose how I relate to the world around me.
So far I have focused my attention on my external world. Issues such as minimalism play a big role in my life and I love talking about it. But I also need to develop my mental capacity to choose the right way to communicate it and how I react to questions.
Let me give you an example: birthday parties.
Whenever my kids are invited to a birthday party, in the end, they are sent home with a goodie bag. In the past, I often found myself very upset with the organisers of the birthday party to give my kids a bag of sweets and plastic toys. I was able to recognise the good intention behind it and the fact that my kids really liked it but I struggled with calming my mind when it came to my thoughts about bad nutrition and plastic waste. I couldn’t help but rant about how stupid those goodie bags were.
You might recognise that those thoughts, let alone those conversations, never earned me any friends. On the contrary, many didn’t understand what I was saying and why I was so negative. And I could see how my thoughts were impacting my relationships and my own state of mind.
Choosing our mind
And that is where ‘choice’ comes in. I always have a choice of thought. I can choose how to react to anything in my life. Not only can I choose to be an environmentalist, but I can also choose how I react to those who are not.
To stay with the example of goodie bags, I now know that I don’t have to react in a dismissive way towards other parents and their intention of doing something nice. Instead, I can choose to react differently.
I can choose gratitude for the fact that I have the possibility to do it all differently. When it’s time for my kids birthday party, I can choose a different approach and paint t-shirts with the kids instead. I can choose to engage in conversations with those parents who are interested in a different approach to goodie bags. I can choose to accept people where they are in their journey in life.
A daily exercise
Living a life of choices doesn’t mean to stop at material consumption. Yes, I have luxuries that others don’t have. But we all have the possibility to choose how we engage with that. Do I envy the person who has something I want or am I grateful for what I have?
Living a life of choices isn’t easy and there is no right or wrong. It can be a struggle to understand why we make choices the way we make them. It takes guts to change a habit of envy. Breaking the norm and moving away from consumption in a Western society takes courage to see through.I
t’s not a clear-cut road and it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It’s one to repeat every day, consistently and with grace.
If you’re interested to read from a man who chose how he reacted to the horrors of concentration camps, I can highly recommend Victor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning”.