Springingtiger's Blog


The Language of Choice: Or and the Illusion of Choice

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To return to ‘vanilla or chocolate’ we see that sometimes choice is an illusion. It appears that we are free to choose between Vanilla and Chocolate; what is less obvious is the exclusion of all other possibilities. It is an ‘exclusive or’.

When a husband says to his wife, “Where do you want to go on vacation this year, Florida or Spain?” It appears that he is giving her a choice whereas in fact he is confining her options securely to what he wants. He could really ramp up the illusion of choice by adding, “Or  ̶ if you’d rather ̶ we could go on a cruise.” In fact all he is doing is adding one more option. This choice is illusory. It is not a true choice, but a decision.

A decision is a choice determined by the consideration of options. In an ‘exclusive or’ situation there is no freedom of choice because the options are predetermined and limited. The ‘exclusive or’ is a linguistic structure. Sometimes the circumstances in which one finds oneself provide a physical equivalent of an ‘exclusive or’ in that circumstances severely limit one’s options. If you fall down a hole do you try and climb out OR wait to be rescued? The more options a person has the greater the illusion of choice. A student faced with the task of choosing at which university they will continue their studies appears to have an unlimited choice, in reality they have already restricted their choices.

It is practical to shut off choices and make a decision, otherwise a person could end up never really choosing to do anything. However there is in everyone’s life a real freedom of choice which is usually unacknowledged. Our freedom of choice is concealed behind the expectations placed upon us by family and society. Our society is designed to have us close down our unlimited possibilities and we do this when we make a choice and exclude other possibilities. Sadly the choice we make is too often the sensible one and we exclude the joy of craziness.

I can’t remember whether it was in the old Communication Course I encountered an exercise called ‘What am I Building?’ in which one takes any action of daily life and elicits its ‘in order to’, that is to say that to which it leads. In NLP terms this is a ‘chunking up’ exercise. It is also useful in empowering choice. It goes like this: Why am I going to university? Possible answers may include to deepen my knowledge? To gain a qualification? To meet girls? Everyone has their own motivators. Let’s say for this example we have said “To gain a qualification (Oh dear, but all is not lost!) Why do I want a qualification? I want a qualification to get a good job. Why do I want to get a good job? To earn money? Why do I want to earn money? To be respected….yadi, yadi, yada. At any point it is possible to step sideways and ask a question like, “What is another way I can get a good job? Which opens up new possibilities. The ultimate purpose of the exercise is to push beyond the mundane and elicit what we would really love, our ultimate purpose. When we have elicited our ultimate purpose we will see that there are infinite ways of chunking back down from it to the level at which we are now. In reality when we can see that ultimate goal which is usually a state of being ̶ when examined carefully ̶ we open up unforeseen possibilities for its attainment unlimited by conventional thinking.

Ordinarily every decision we take closes down options. However when our focus remains on our ultimate goal ̶ I just noticed the ‘goal’ word is back in the conversation ̶ our Fundamental Choice, then we actually keep our possibilities open, if suspended. As long as our choice of action is given by the Fundamental Choice and not by the constraints of the particular path we have chosen we retain the possibility of stepping onto a different path.

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