The Paradox of Choice
The Western society is presumably more developed and offers more opportunities to every human being. However, do these opportunities really enhance a person’s wellbeing and satisfaction in life?
Decisions. We can think about things, turn them over in our minds a million times, play out possible scenarios, but really when it comes down to it, you have to go with your heart and move forward. Maybe things will go well. Maybe they'll turn out poorly. Every decision brings with it some good, some bad, some lessons, and some luck. The only thing that's for sure is that indecision steals many years from many people who wind up wishing they'd just had the courage to leap. ~Doe Zantamata
Recently, I read the book by Barry Schwartz - The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less and been inspired to write this blog post. In today’s modern society humans have more possibilities than ever before. One can choose where to live, what to do for a living, how many children to raise, to marry or to divorce etc. Capitalistic economy has led to consumerism and consumerism has led to always wanting more and better. People are not satisfied with mediocre lives anymore. The majority of people want to live successful, rich and interesting lives that would serve as examples to other people. There is a wide gap between rich and poor in the world.
As a relatively young person I have an opportunity to speak with other young people on a daily basis, be it friends, colleagues, friends of friends, co-workers or strangers. I couldn’t help but notice a pattern in today’s youth. We are more or less all lost. The majority of people I speak to don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They don’t know what kind of work they would like to do, what kind of partner they would like to meet, whether they want to have children or not, where they would like to live and so forth. Talking to older people, who grew up in a different economy and political order, I could witness a big change in mentality. They were not as lost as young people today, so the question is how, where and why did this phenomenon come to existence?
Slovenian social and legal theorist, Renata Salecl, claims that at the end of communism in former Yugoslavia people thought that more choices would make them freer, but then they entered capitalism, and the dream of choices became reality. Capitalism’s prevailing idea, not only in regards to consumerism, but a general idea, is to offer as much variety and choice as possible. Choice is actually a very social matter, because we do not choose things on our own, someone or something always influences our choices.
Present ideology in modern society makes us convinced that we are able to choose our path in life, that any person can become famous and that anyone can become what he or she wants to become. This mentality sprouts from the idea of a self made man that is the cornerstone of capitalism. We are, unfortunately, more determined by our upbringing, social class and poverty than we would want to believe, but capitalism makes us believe the opposite. It is a system that functions quicker and quicker, people work long shifts, are rushing around and constantly consuming, and at the same time believing that they are masters of their own lives. This is what fuels the ideology of capitalism; the belief in the freedom of choice and being our own authority.
It is important to be aware that all these choices do not necessarily mean better lives, on the contrary, when a person has too many options he or she can become paralysed with the inability to choose. Likewise, when a person finally does choose an option, he or she can regret not having taken the option that was not chosen. This extends from choosing a jam in the supermarket to choosing our career. One important practical solution that could help people when they are faced with many options is deciding the moment we are comfortable with the decision that is good enough for us and not searching for the absolute best. On the other hand, however, we need to take into account that there may be no clear cut solution to deeper questions around abundance of choice in today’s modern society.
In order to overcome some problems of capitalistic mentality we need to create the right identifications and forms of social cohesion through different institutions that provide social contact and not dwell on individualism too much. That means we need to collaborate, socialize, make new friends, keep in touch with old ones, talk and share more. Moreover, we need to wake up and realize the world is no fairy tale and stop waiting for the right moment to start, make a change or decide. There will never be the right moment. The right moment is already here. It is now. Italians have a simple saying that goes something like this: “vedendo facendo”... it means, we’ll know what to do while doing it. So, stop thinking about what to do and just do it, do anything.
After reading all sorts of things about choices and after being myself in a rut for a long time, paralysed with indecision, I finally understood why Nike is so comfortable with its’ “Just Do It” slogan. Because, when we start doing something, we start living and the decisions resolve right in front our eyes. If we are in a fog we cannot see what 100 meters ahead of us is. But we can see 1 meter ahead, we make a step and see another meter and so on. It requires patience, calmness, and living step by step, or better yet, day by day to be able to overcome our challenges.