31 January 2014

We often put far less effort into forming an opinion than into choosing what we eat, buy or even wear.

THESE days if you walk into a coffee bar, you find yourself faced with an overwhelming variety of choices. You can have strong, weak, with milk, without milk, several different types of milk and in several sizes.
It can be confusing but eventually you make a choice, even if it is for the simplest version possible.
The point of the modern coffee bar is that you have choices and you can decide for yourself, even if it is to finally just walk out without ordering anything.
But how to do you make these choices? For a first-timer, the variety can be just too much and some guidance from someone would be helpful. But as you get more educated about the coffee, eventually you become confident enough to know what you like and make your own decision.
These days we are faced with choices in almost every area of our life.
We can choose to do many things or to do nothing. We can choose to do useful things or waste our time. We can choose to wear bright colours or dull ones. Every single waking minute we make choices on where to go and what to do.
We can also make choices in what we think about things. And yet somehow when we make our choices about our thoughts, we put less consideration into them than we do for choosing coffee or cars.
When we are in a situation where we have to make a choice, we consider many things.
If we need to choose a mobile phone to buy, we’ll read up about it, ask friends for their opinions and eventually decide on one which both suits our needs and our wallets.
We will take our time to make the decision that is right for us.
Whether we are making choices about where to eat, where to go on holiday, what insurance to buy or whom to marry, we think a lot about them.
Yet when it comes to having an opinion about something, we spend much less time. We read headlines and short articles and already decide that we know what to think about something.
The media tell us what to think about some issues and we accept their directions with very little questioning.
It doesn’t seem to occur to us that like everything else, we have a choice in what we think about many things and the choices can be as varied as coffee.
But there are so many of us who believe that we have no choice in our thoughts. Whether out of laziness or fear, we follow the way others, or our leaders, say we should think because we don’t realise that even in this we have choices.
We may well come to the same conclusion but we never think that we should go through the same decision-making process as we do for all other choices in our lives.
And yet we think of ourselves as autonomous human beings with the faculty to make independent decisions.
It always astounds me how many people use the same words to talk about things as our leaders and media use.
Few people seem to realise that they actually can use a vocabulary that is bigger than what is given to them.
Instead they limit themselves to the same words, which in effect means they also limit their own thinking about the issue.
This is why when people disagree with something, their arguments are often so limited.
Despite facts that can prove otherwise, they continue to use the same arguments over and over again, as if continued repetition will one day make it come true.
To find new facts or to be more creative with what they already know is too hard for some, or they think there is no other choice but to think the way they always have.
Perhaps it is a consequence of our less than stellar education system where our children are told that their choices are limited to only whatever their teachers tell them.
It is a system that insists that the only right choice is to obey authority regardless of whether they are doing the right thing or not.
So our kids grow up not realising that there are many more choices in the world, and that the best ones are perhaps the ones they are never told about.
Fifty-seven years after independence, our people live in this mistaken belief that they have the agency to make all the choices they need to make. But in fact every single day their choices are narrowed, instilled mostly by fear.
We blind ourselves to this situation because we think our leaders are making the right choices for us.
But what if they aren’t?
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.