We make multiple decisions every day, and most of these involve choices: visit my relative or buy clothes for a child? Keep my appointment or take a day off? Cut the grass or relax? Be honest with my neighbor or let it ride? Read this book or that one? Bank this check or cash it for donation to a worthy cause? Buy this gift for my child, or that one?
Choices, choices: they consume much of our mental energy, and they are often nettlesome. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could scoot through the day without making a single, solitary choice! But, in some ways, making choices can well be regarded as the high point of my day. By choices I avoid standing still and move myself from one situation to another. If I want to avoid certain situations, I have to make a choice. If I seek to improve my life situation, I must decide certain things.
Decision-making is the chisel that chips away at the person I am, sending me along the way of becoming the person that my decisions fashion. When a sculptor is chipping away at a large block of marble, it is important not to make the wrong stroke because it leaves an irrevocable impact on the solid block of marble that cannot be undone. It forces the sculptor to make a change, slight though it may be, in the piece of artistry he or she originally had in mind. The artist now has to adjust his/her plans for the design that has suddenly and perhaps accidentally forced itself on the final shape that will emerge.
Now, in this, and all of the examples above, are we talking about decisions that are necessarily good or bad? Is life necessarily full of decisions between good and evil? Do the alternatives above all entail good or bad choices? Is the sculptor’s slip of the hammer on the marble slab irretrievably bad for the final product, or is it just a challenge to overcome by compensating for that slip by a corrective chipping away at the marble block? A change of plans, yes, a mistake, true, but one that is irreparable?
Many, perhaps most, of our life choices are not between good and evil, but between this particular good or that particular good. We may later regret having made one choice rather than another but it’s a matter of a lesser good and a better one. A legislator may choose to vote against a legal enactment prohibiting abortion in favor of deciding to support a piece of legislation increasing the minimum wage, on the score that the latter approach will prevent more abortions than the former. This entails two ways of reducing abortion: the legal way, or the economic way. Is each good, though one, perhaps, more so than the other? One may be more effective in reducing abortions than the other, but does that make it good and the other evil?
Or I may be late in picking up my child after school, so I drive 45 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, without mishap. I arrive in time to alleviate any apprehension on the child’s part but I have violated the speed limit. Was this a choice between good and evil or between two goods: keeping the law or calming the child? So the question becomes: are my choices usually between good and evil, or good and good? And, if the latter, it is likely a choice between what is good and what is better. Must I choose the better? What do I confess when I go to confession: a deliberate decision to choose the lesser good? What if I choose to skip Sunday mass because I have a bad cold? Have I chosen between two goods or a good and an evil? Life is full of choices. Which ones occupy me the most?