The Privilege of Choice

One of the things a Bangalorean gets conditioned to, pretty quickly, is the imminent traffic and long commute to and from work. Spending an hour or two in a transportation system of convenience is considered a norm. Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that my commute constitutes a significant portion of my day’s time that I can (and should) put to constructive use. So instead of mindless social media browsing, I’ve made a conscious effort to choose interesting podcasts, books on my Kindle, or even just people and systems-watching. An exercise I try to do is to observe my thoughts as I notice what is happening around me.

That vegetable vendor with a hand-cart – where does he source his produce from? how much wastage must he have? what kind of profit could he make?

The women selling one foot long pens at the signal – who buys this stuff, really? who is their employer? who came up with the idea of a footlong pen?!

Stray dogs that are multiplying on street corners – what is the root cause and the most effective solution to solve this problem? do they need to be rescued?

Piles of garbage along main roads – how much garbage did I generate this morning? why do the garbage pickers have no protective gear? is this the outcome despite all the waste segregation laws?

An exercise like this can get frustrating very quickly. Especially given our propensity to blame the system or view it as a downward spiral that has no scope for improvement. Here’s a question that can help break this web though – what choices am I making? You see, there is an underlying assumption that we often don’t acknowledge when we talk about self-accountability – the privilege of choice. For all of us reading this blog using an internet connection, we have been blessed with sufficient resources that give us the luxury of choice and control in almost all critical components of life. Often, however, we are so caught up in our own web of thoughts, that we seldom recognize how choice plays out in the decisions we make every day.

The choice between a cab and a bus for your daily commute. The choice to buy rice or wheat for your family. The choice of spending that extra cash on a pair of shoes that will never be worn, or saving it for hospital expenses for a parent. Living in an unhygienic hostel or renting an apartment of your own. Choosing to have kids or struggling with infertility. Fretting over your partner who left the towel on the bed or battling physical abuse in a marriage.

Exercising our choice is a right. But it is also a privilege that not many are blessed with.

So the next time we feel stuck in a rut, or feel like the world is not on our side, the best thing we can do is spend time observing people around us in our morning commute and ask ourselves – what choices are we making? And thank our stars that we get to choose. Because they don’t.

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