Pentecost 160

Pentecost 160
My Proverbs 10

I Do!

In all of life, we have a choice: whether to do or not to do. That juxtaposition between right or wrong, good or evil, left or right, yes or no has existed throughout the ages. Most of us face choices every day and expect to but sometimes they confront us in the most unusual places in the most unexpected ways.

Dr Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia University and a leading expert on the psychology of choices tells of an experience she had in Japan several years ago. She went into a Japanese restaurant and attempted to order a cup of green tea “with sugar”. The waiter hesitated for a moment and then respectfully explained that green tea did not come with sugar. The visiting professor said she knew it was not usually prepared for drinking in Japan with sugar but she preferred it that. The waiter again hesitated and then rephrased his statement. This time he said that sugar was not served with green tea. Dr Iyengar again noted that her preference was not usual for the Japanese and so ordered green tea and also some sugar. The waiter responded that there was no sugar in the restaurant to be served with her green tea. The good professor then changed her order to a cup of coffee which was promptly served….accompanied with two packets of sugar.

Dr Iyengar, in a TED talk given in 2010 summed up the experience and the choices made by both parties this way: “My failure to procure myself a cup of sweet, green tea was not due to a simple misunderstanding. This was due to a fundamental difference in our ideas about choice. From my American perspective, when a paying customer makes a reasonable request based on her preferences, she has every right to have that request met. The American way, to quote Burger King, is to “have it your way, “because, as Starbucks says, “happiness is in your choices. But from the Japanese perspective, it’s their duty to protect those who don’t know any better in this case, the ignorant gaijin –from making the wrong choice. Let’s face it: the way I wanted my tea was inappropriate according to cultural standards, and they were doing their best to help me save face.

People in the United States of America consider making choices part of being American and strongly resist attempts to limit their choices, feeling that their basic freedoms have been taken away from them. In some cultures, making a choice is not about the options but in what your choice says about you. In other cultures, having too many choices is considered scary. In some religious circles, too many choices easily lead a person astray. Choices are seen as temptations, things to be avoided.

Dr Iyengar conducted a research study about choices and interviewed both French and American parents who had suffered infant deaths. In the USA the decision to remove life support was given to the parents but in France, the medical team made the decision. Dr Iyengar reported that one year later, the French parents had dealt with their loss in a healthier manner and accepted their death of their infant and were moving on. However, those parents in the USA who had been given the choice to decide when and sometimes where still felt immense grief and, in some cases, guilt. They all seemed to be consumed with “What if” and “If only” thoughts.

In everything we do, there is something we are not doing. IF we eat, then we have elected not to be hungry. If we do not get enough sleep because we stayed up late watching a sports event, then we have chosen not to get a healthy amount of sleep. These choices might seem oppositional but in truth, they are complimentary. For every choice there is a consequence.

Yin and yang are two Chinese concepts used to illustrate how seemingly contradictory forces are actually complimentary and serve to form the system of creation and life. In this manner, the whole proves greater than the parts. We cannot have a shadow without the light. We appreciate the sunshine because we have experienced the rain. We can tell when we are feeling ill because we (hopefully0 are usually feeling good.

In her book “Alter Your Life”, Dr Kathleen Hall sums up our living and the role saying “I do” to something: “In every single thing you do, you are choosing a direction. Your life is a product of choices.” Throughout one’s life span we have many ways of saying “I do”.

Who took the cookies from the cookie jar? Who spilled the milk? Who used that car without refilling the gas tank? Who dropped my mirror? Who wants cake? Who wants a second helping of food? Who will promise to help these confirmands in their religious life? Who loves this man? Who will bear witness to this union? Who believes the defendant is guilty? Who seeks success? Who seeks peace? Who will inform the family? Who will work for peace? As Ken Levine succinctly put it: “We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”

My Proverb 10

The petals on the flower may seem a pattern. To me, they are the illustrations of my mind’s dilemma. “Does he; does he not?” “Should I; will I say no?” The wise choice is that which blesses, for all eternity, not only one but all for truly the whole is greater than the one.

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