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Culture Cul De Sac

Published: Sunday April 20, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday April 20, 2014 MYT 9:32:06 AM

Having choices sometimes makes things more difficult

Choose wisely: In the absence of enforcement, our choices depend on our principles, the strength of our beliefs. Do we believe enough in saving the planet to compost our waste? — File photo

Choose wisely: In the absence of enforcement, our choices depend on our principles, the strength of our beliefs. Do we believe enough in saving the planet to compost our waste? — File photo

When we don’t have the luxury of choice, when the line between right and wrong is blurred, it is our conscience that has the last say.

From the sweep of coffee roasts to the wide compass of countries to visit, deciding on a caffeine fix or on a holiday hideaway has evolved into a multiple-choice ripple of answers. With no wrong ones.

Even a simple decision such as selecting a bottle of salad dressing from a supermarket aisle can be as nerve-wracking as resolving to have nasi lemak for breakfast every day for a week. Health concerns aside, the titillating variety of our nation’s favourite meal now warrants more than just a stroll to the nearest stall for a quick bungkus. The decision’s weight lies heavy on the mind as well as in the stomach, too. The guilt of this extended indulgence is likely to take away the sheer pleasure of enjoying Malaysia’s choicest breakfast.

It’s just like having to choose a single pair of shoes from a store stacked to the rafters or casting your vote for a candidate from a sea filled with sharks ruling their shallow waters.

Today we have unlimited choice in almost every aspect of our lives. Some of the choices we have to make, like our daily meals or how to spend our free time, are simple enough. Habit, affordability and instant satisfaction often greatly limit these choices.

Daily news comes to us in varied formats, so we opt for the form that works best for us. If we choose to cycle to work in Kuala Lumpur then we’ll have to contend with unannounced potholes, inevitable sweat and belligerent motorists.

Usually, we are quick to decide. However, the more monumental decisions take time, thought and resolve. Effort, too. How do we ensure that we are able to live with what we have chosen? For example, the person we decide to marry. How can we be sure that it’s not a course of action that we’ll look back on with regret 10 years later?

While individual decisions are our own responsibility, collective, group or community choices are harder. Take the example of wanting to save the planet. Yes, we all want that. Most definitely, in the face of the environmental decimation that we see all around us. It affects the air we breathe, the water we drink and the world we live in. Yet, to so many, even those with power and authority to make the necessary changes, sustaining our world is like an afterthought. In pursuing unprecedented progress, accumulating untold wealth and often wilfully ignoring what we see around us each day, we leave saving and sustaining to others.

Yet principled individuals try very hard. Despite all obstacles, they separate their rubbish. Recycle their junk. Become more conscious consumers. People and planet loom large in their minds, and they play their tiny part. “Going green” and sustaining the earth may be idealistic, yet community gardens and solar-powered homes are not about just being a hippie tree-hugger.

While most of us are lucky enough to have a choice in what we say or do, many people are not so fortunate. For them, choice is a fancy word when life does not offer them any options. Think of the Syrian refugees forced to flee their country or the lowest-paid immigrant workers worldwide who struggle to support themselves and their families. Their hosts have the choice to help, ignore or exploit them.

Not that different from when the taxman beckons, unrelentingly, at this time of year. Citizens like you and I are trapped in this cycle of paying our dues. Even when we don’t want to, we don’t have a choice. 

For disgruntled tax-payers, it is not easy to comply when year after year we are reminded of the inexcusable wastage of taxpayers’ funds. Wasted by the country’s custodians who, as shown once again by the Auditor-General’s report, are never taken to task for their misdeeds.

So, in the absence of enforcement, our final choices depend on our principles, the strength of our beliefs. The value of choice then depends on our ability to see the differences between the options: buy or save; move or stay; comply or complain. 

And when we don’t have the luxury of choice, when the line between right and wrong is blurred, it is our conscience that has the last say.

In the end, isn’t that the easiest option?

> Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion, Lifestyle, Column, Culture Cul De Sac, Jacqueline Pereira, making choices

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