Free to choose has consequences

Published 11:04 am Friday, March 3, 2017

By TJ Ray

Once it was a popular television program, and later it became the name of a little town.

Perhaps you’ve spent the night in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Though the lively TV program is long gone, and billboards on Route 66 invite us to drop in, real consequences are readily come by.

Email newsletter signup

Consider that many words might be used to complete this sentence: You are free to … say what you wish. Think what you want. Ignore decorum. Change your gender. Change your religion. Practice no religion. Practice all sorts of -isms. And those words would not perhaps require a follow-up statement — as opposed to some other choices: murder, steal, physical abuse, lie to authorities.

As young people grow up, they are routinely told what they are at liberty to do. Sadly, many of the choices they take note of are options adults around them make. If it’s okay for Mr. Cornelius Prither to do something without consequence, it must be okay for me to do it also.

In a way the education of children runs along the lines of “monkey see — monkey do.” Absent responsible adults to suggest that their choices may have consequences, those behaviors become the norm.

Consider an example. In public situations, there is no rule that one party of an act must thank the other party. Money goes from customer to cashier, and the deal is consummated. Sometimes a clerk will thank someone for shopping somewhere, but that may be a part of store protocol.

Expressions of gratitude are quite rare in school settings. As a test, listen for the next “thank you” you hear in public. The point is, an individual has the choice of expressing gratitude or not.

It may well be that the simple omission of “thank you” or “please” contributes significantly to the impersonal, get-on-with-it world around us. Think back to your last few hours of being with other people. Count the times you recall anyone thanking anyone for anything.

Not long ago a fellow wrote a book with the ponderous title “Economic Warfare: Secrets of Wealth Creation in the Age of Welfare Politics.” The very title gives a hint of its content. The writer was Ziad K. Abdelnour, and that is all I know about him — except one other thing. He once penned a small statement about choice. The import of his words on that topic may help to explain the semi-robotic state we’re in. And it almost certainly spells out a lesson that most young people are unaware of until they find themselves in trouble.

Abdelnour wrote, “You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.” Let that simmer for a moment or two. The first clause nudges us to say “Right on, man!,” but then comes the almost violent conclusion: Do what you want, but get ready for consequences beyond your choosing!

What is needed is a peep hole to the future through which kids might see the results of their choices. Selection from a menu of deeds might be more prudent if they could look ahead and see the results of various choices.

Words. And deeds. Deeds. And words. They add up to life, and like it or not they produce consequences.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.