Choosing Not To Choose


I wrote this word down after a conversation I had at Glide, the place where a few of us volunteer once a week to help serve breakfast to the homeless in the Tenderloin neighborhood in San Francisco. We were wondering if there was any way to simplify the process of serving food so that it would be easier both for the staff, as well as for the clients.

While casually brainstorming ideas, Brando, the manager of the Free Daily Meals Program, made an interesting comment: those that come to Glide don’t have the privilege of making choices throughout their day. They go about their lives depending on the goodwill of others. “Most of the time, they don’t even get to choose where they go to the bathroom,” he said, and it’s true. A lot of us can walk into a Starbucks to use the restroom, but if any of the people that go to Glide try to do the same, they will be rejected 95% of the time solely based on appearance.

This obviously stuck with me and made me consider my own daily routine. I choose to get out of bed every morning. I choose to get dressed. I choose to go to the office and work. I choose my meals. I choose whether I go out or stay in, whether I exercise or stuff my face with a pint of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream (or both). I choose when to take vacation, when to pay off my credit cards… The list is obviously never-ending.

I’ve thought about whether it’s really fair for me to say that I choose to go to work, for example. Work becomes pretty mandatory for most of us if we want to survive in society, especially when we try to raise a family. It is our means of survival. However, the same applies to Glide’s clients, yet many of them, although they may wish to work, are denied the opportunity. They’re not unemployed because they’re lazy (although some of them might be), but rather because a lot of them have been deemed unworthy to contribute to a society that judges them on an infinite number of standards silently decided upon by all of us, because we are society. Another choice made for them, not by them.

When I considered all of this, and then tied it back to seeing choices as a privilege, I suddenly changed the way I speak about things I crave to do, yet for which “I don’t have the time.” We don’t own time, therefore we will never “have” it, and going about our lives thinking this way is dangerous, because it allows us to place the blame externally instead of changing our behaviors, which we do own. It’s quite simple, but the simplest things are often the hardest to grasp and cope with: we make time, or we don’t. Period.

All of those instances in which I complained that I didn’t have time to sit down and write this blog post? Or practice with my guitar? Or take a Saturday to surf? Or do all of the other things I get to choose to do with my life? All of that was my fault. I didn’t make time for it. And that, in and of itself, was another choice: I chose not to choose them.

And that’s probably the mother of all privileges.

Photo by: Belén Alemán / San Francisco, CA, USA

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