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The tyranny of choice

Posted by Simon Parke, 04 June 2019, 10.15am

Gerard Hughes told the story of his dog who loved his bone.

‘He likes it so much,’ thought Gerard, ‘I’ll give him another one. Even more pleasure!’

But it didn’t work. The dog would pick up one bone, and then noticing the other bone, drop the first bone and pick up the second. And then notice the first one again, and drop the second.

All happiness was gone. Choice created discontentment.

It is the same with the CD’s in my car. They gradually increased in number, as I sought more musical options for road journeys.

This would make me happier surely?

But like Gerard’s dog, I would put one CD on, yet notice another.

‘Perhaps it would be better to be listening to that one instead?’ I would say to myself. I couldn’t commit to a CD. Choice led me into a netherworld of auto discontent.

I now only have one CD in the car at a time. I commit, I listen, I am there.

It is something of a cliché when people return from impoverished countries. ‘They didn’t have anything – but they were so happy!’

There is truth here because while poverty is a tyranny, so is choice. We can be splintered by it, unable to accept the path we walk; looking longingly at other possible paths, rather than being here now.

Another cliche is the unhappiness of the rich - ‘money doesn’t make you happy’. It doesn’t, of course, because choice doesn’t. People become dislocated and made unhappy by almost endless choice.

Signs of the tyranny of choice are anxious discontent with the present, splintering restless mind, distrust of decisions made.

Antidotes to this tyranny are slow non-judging mind, acceptance of this particular present and trust in the unfolding. 

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