“What is freedom? Freedom is the right to choose: the right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice. Without the possibility of choice and the exercise of choice a man is not a man but a member, an instrument, a thing” (Archibald MacLeish).
WE SHOULD NOT TAKE LIGHTLY THE POWER OF CHOICE THAT OUR CREATOR HAS GIVEN US. The “right to create for oneself the alternatives of choice” is a great gift, and one that should be used carefully and to good advantage. Like all great gifts, the freedom of our will is a fearful gift. If we choose wisely between alternatives, we benefit, but if we’re foolish about our choices, we suffer greatly.
From the Latin alter (“other”), we get a group of words that all have to do with choice. To “alter” means to change a thing into something other than what it was. To “alternate” means to pass back and forth from one state to another. And “alternatives” are choices between two possibilities: one thing and the other. So the word “other” is a powerfully suggestive word. Rarely in life is there only one path that we could follow. Almost always, we have alternatives. And much of the wisdom of life consists in knowing when to take the “other” path.
Think, however, about how this relates to our personal relationships. If having alternatives is a good thing for us, shouldn’t we also try to open up alternatives for our friends and loved ones? We can’t totally take charge of anybody else’s choices, of course, but we do have the chance now and then to help somebody see what their alternatives actually are. If they’re discouraged, we can help them see that they aren’t doomed — they still have the power of choice. And if they’re caught in unfortunate circumstances, we can help open some doors for them. Without a doubt, door-opening for others is one of life’s best privileges.
So life is not just about expanding our own possibilities; it’s also about giving opportunities to others. Even if another person doesn’t take the path we opened up for them, if we know we gave them a chance they wouldn’t otherwise have had, that’s a very good feeling.
Harry Emerson Fosdick said, “No man need stay where he is.” Whether it’s our own alternatives or those of others, the ability to make better choices is a marvelous freedom. Therein lies great hope.
“You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth” (Evan Esar).