I know that slaveish wasn’t a word before just now.
So Many Choices
I just got back from a work trip to Denver for the Fire Rescue International conference. Denver was extraordinary in every definition of that word I can think of. As far as weather is concerned, you’d have a hard time beating that area; and with a 30 minute drive from downtown, you can go fly fishing in the mountains. On the other hand, I’ve never seen/smelled so much pot and cigarette smoke and so many homeless people in my life. Minus the homeless people in Washington, D.C. Hmm…another post.
Anyway, whilst in Denver I happened upon a gelato store [snotty travelling folk may commence commenting about how great real Italian gelato is…just scroll down and forget the rest of this post.]. In the gelato store were a strange 16-ish year old kid named Dan and about 20 flavor choices. Such variety! Surely the experience would be great!
Unable to decide, I requested several samples–cinnamon bun, cherry something, banana daiquiri [flavored], mint brownie, and tuxedo. They were all good. I still couldn’t decide. However, triumphing over my decision-making paralysis (after 10 minutes)…I chose a combination of banana and tuxedo (which is a combination of 3 flavors). What I mean is…I chose everything except mint and cherry.
The ice cream…er…gelato was terrific. Something wasn’t quite right, though. I was mildly disappointed that I didn’t have some of the other flavors I had chose against, which made my overall ice cream experience a little less pleasing.
An abundance of choices, which is usually touted as a positive in the moment, had actually become a negative in the long run. The negative was slight as I still enjoyed my gelato, but existent nevertheless.
The Slavery of the Freedom of Choice
As society has “progressed,” it has asserted that freedom is exemplified by more choice(s). I’m not sure if I can think of an aspect of life that this doesn’t touch as I begin to make a list: ice cream, clothing, water, vacation, lifestyle, religion, pens, pins, pans, pants, plants, plates, etc. An increase in choices causes an increase in expectation, which is reasonable enough. If I have a multitude of choices, I should be able to get what is best for me and walk away much more satisfied than if I had only a couple of options.
The two negatives that come from this increase, then, are strange:
- A delay or complete paralysis in making a choice, and
- A decrease in satisfaction knowing that other options existed that I left behind.
The two seem to augment one another as choices and variety grow larger, while what businesses and marketing teams expect is my increased satisfaction. In the short run, I’m impressed by DSW’s thousands of shoe selections. Many times, however, I leave the store having been unable to find a shoe that would satisfy me more than all the other options. And if I leave the store with a purchase, I quickly find some buyer’s remorse in my head as a result of leaving all the other cool shoes behind.
The Bigger Picture
Shoes and ice cream may not be too big of a deal, but do these ideas creep into other aspects of our lives? After all, society has multiplied or even created choices in some fairly significant areas. Religion is a prime example. Zoom all the way out and you find a broad spectrum that includes atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, devil worship, etc. Zoom into Christianity, though, and you find dozens of denominations, and in every denomination you find dozens of variations, and in every variation you find hundreds of unique congregations to choose between. Some people, therefore, never choose. Some people are always choosing and are disappointed every time.
Even in places where nature doesn’t pose a choice, we increase choice. We have created choice in gender. Do the same negatives appear here? I think so.
That sub-heading is false advertising.
We have to be very cautious approaching the idea of fixing these problems. At first, some will say the answer is to restrict or even eliminate choice. With no choice, we eliminate negatives, and everyone is happy at a specified standard. As a result, some have suggested things like the redistribution of wealth through taxation, communism, theocratic domination, and only vanilla gelato. None of those work very well. The gelato thing is a joke, but the other stuff doesn’t work very well.
Instead of restricting choices, then, do we need to have very low expectations so that whatever choice we come to is more satisfying? Where then are hope and motivation? Difficult, also, to justify.
And so, I submit to the reader/commenter: What is the solution? Do we limit choices, lower expectations, learn to be content in all things, roll dice, or what?
You’re up, slugger.