Tuesday, April 22, 2008


There is a phrase that I hear people use all too frequently that I have serious mixed emotions about. "We are nothing more and nothing less than the sum of our choices."
This has become a mantra for conservative talk show hosts. Neal Boortz uses it frequently to criticize those on welfare and those "looking for a hand out". For the most part I agree with the sentiment when people are indeed victims of their own bad decision making. I have little sympathy for folks who try to separate their decisions from the consequences. If you choose wisely you should expect the consequences of those decisions. Conversely if you make bad decisions you should expect to be rewarded accordingly. To this extent I have been trying to teach my children that they have the freedom to behave as they like. They just need to remember that consequences are just the other end of that decision and they can't be separated.
So I totally agree that our lives are directly affected by our decisions. My problem with the phrase comes with all encompassing and exclusionary tone of "nothing more and nothing less". This I flatly disagree with. Yesterday we heard this from the pulpit from a couple who had just returned from a mission in Spain. Granted he was trying to teach us to make correct decisions. However, as he said that I started looking around the room and one after the other I saw examples of people who were clearly more than the sum of their decisions. There was a man in front of me who is autistic. When did he choose to be autistic? Yet it is clearly part of who he is today. I saw a few little girls who had been adopted from China. When did they choose to be female and Chinese and when did they choose to be adopted? I saw a man who is still recovering from a brain tumor and will likely not return to his former brain function. Again, when did he choose this?
I fear that in their zeal to promote individual responsibility those who make this statement go too far. Denying that there are some things just outside of our control tends to deny that people can be victims. That is simply not true. Rather than blame their situations on their own behavior perhaps we should look to ways to both alleviate their current situation and also teach them how to make better decisions in the first place. In the cases that I've stated here there really was no bad decision in the first place and I see no reason to blame them for their situation.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus started by feeding everybody with the loaves and the fishes. I wonder how many folks would have stayed around to listen if he had just said, "You are nothing more and nothing less than the sum of our choices. The reason you are hungry now is because you decided not to bring any food." Somehow I don't think his message would have been quite as well received.


  1. This is definitely something that people debate frequently. I think your point is state very well. Thank you! :)

  2. Anonymous3:43 PM

    yep,, Like, "... a certain man wend down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among theves,..." did not choose to be mugged. But his benefactor did choose to help. Blaming them for their situation is not our responsibility, but as you pointed out, we have been asked to help "...alleviate their current situation and also teach them how to make better decisions..."

    Well said.