A couple of nights ago I received a text message from one of my girlfriends just as I was going to bed. She was reminding me to thank God for . . . a roof over your head, warm food and for choice. I immediately did just that and when I came to choice I thanked God twice!
Our generation of African women is fortunate to have come of age at a time when women have a wider range of choices available to them than the generation before. However, while the record may mention countless numbers of choices women have, the reality on the ground is that as long as society remains largely patriarchal, it is difficult for women to exercise those choices or even to take ownership of them.
A social system in which women are expected ultimately to defer to men for decision-making or in which men largely hold the power and women are dependent on them, affects the ability of women to exercise their choices on two fronts.
To begin with, a womans powers are limited and she exercises her choices based on the benevolence of men in her immediate community.
But much more damaging and tragic still, is the womans tendency, even when the choices are made available to her, to choose that which will be endorsed by the men around her. Shackled by convention and the expectations of others, we play it safe. Fearing disapproval, displeasure or disenfranchisement, the woman effectively annuls her ability to choose, setting her own and the next generation many years back.
We do this all the time. We do it inadvertently sometimes, but we also do it consciously. We want validation and we pay a high price to acquire it.
Joyce Meyers book Approval Addiction, refers to an epidemic of insecurity in our society today. Our desire for approval imposes a heavy tax on our ability to choose.
As teenage schoolgirls attending a Catholic school, we were never short of lessons on morality, purity and the importance of a good academic record. We were encouraged to love Jesus, pray to all the saints (and angels too I think), attend mass and study hard at school. Oh and of course, to say no to sex.
All around the school there were beautiful posters with full colour photography depicting cute kittens, dewy flowers, sunsets and mountains and messages such as Choose life and other excerpts from the Bible. It was wholesome and safe and well-meaning, and I loved every term of my school life. But I wonder whether it prepared me adequately for the reality of the outside world.
I have thought about that Choose Life poster often since I left school, and in my darkest moments I quiz God over his intentions and the lack of clarity in his communication. The full verse reads: This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.(Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)
Surely if you give me a choice and then tell me what to choose, you have effectively cancelled my power to choose? I ask God about this, but he doesnt answer.
I am thinking now about the constitution-making process. I suppose laws are ways in which we limit one anothers choices for the good of everyone.
But how far should we take it? How heavy-handed should we be in limiting the options available for others? And who really should have the final decision? We all know that in an argument you can have one person for a motion and a hundred people against it, but the simple matter of numbers does not mean the 100 people are right! At best what it does is make it palatable to more people. But is that enough?
If God himself allows you to choose (notwithstanding his somewhat menacing recommendation) then from where do I get the authority to take away your choices? In cases such as homosexuality and abortion, are we proposing laws that supercede the ordinary persons God-given right to choose?
I ask these questions, not because I know the answers, but because I wonder whether those among us who purport to know the answers have invested in enough introspection for their answers to be truly valid.
One of the reasons why people fail to make coherent choices is that they are terrified of making the wrong decision. But what they do not realise is that there is no such thing as a wrong decision.
There are simply decisions with different outcomes. And what is up to us is to accept the outcomes of the decisions we have made and make the best of them.
Albert Einstein is famed for claiming that his intelligence was no greater than that of ordinary people, but that only his curiosity was greater than average. Supposing he had decided that it would be foolish to indulge his curiosity with questions that other grown-ups did not think to ask? How much would the world have missed out on? We are all beneficiaries of his choice to engage and discover. He chose life over convention.
This week I decided to explore Marriane Williamsons audio course, A course in miracles. The first session requires the listener to look around the room and name different objects, affirming that they do not matter This door does not mean anything. This table does not mean anything. This hand does not mean anything. As one who is not a practiced student of meditation, it was difficult for me not to collapse in a fit of giggles, but I did get the point, which is; things only matter if we choose to make them matter.
Its a matter of choice! (no pun intended)
Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Thembe on Twitter www.twitter/localdrummer or visit her facebook page www.facebook.com/pages/local-drummer