I believe in choice. Whether it’s on birth control or the music we listen to when we drive, the media we consume or the political party we swear allegiance to, I believe that choice is crucial, and choice should be accessible.
And I don’t even consider myself that much of a liberal.
Sure, in comparison to my family, I’m a dyed-in-the-red leftie luvvie who will let the country fall into disrepair and who is too soft for her own good. (This, for pointing out that a pride parade isn’t “flaunting gayness”. I love you too, Nonna.) The thing is, I know what happens when socialism goes wrong. My parents lived through Communism, I lived in the aftermath. Hypocrisy and corruption are exactly the same as it is in a capitalist society, they’re just dressed differently.
I also think that issues around human dignity, welfare, protecting the vulnerable, and ensuring fairness of work, trial, and health access, are bipartisan, not the pet cause of any one party.
What’s choice got to do with it?
Simply put, choice (and equal access to choice, rather than the jump-through-hoops kind) signifies the individual’s freedom to exercise their rights. Choice means: I can assess the situation and make a decision based on what I believe is best for me. Lack of choice (or restrictions placed on certain choices) means: What is best is determined by someone else.
Example: Back when my parents were children and teenagers, you could not move out of your region of birth, unless by Party appointment or through marriage. Work sabbaticals were permitted, but you had to get permissions, and whole families were rarely allowed to travel together. (Whole families that were not part of the Party elite, that is.) Meaning, if you wanted to go to university, you had exactly one choice, and if your region did not have a university (there were, at the time, a total of 5 across the country), you were pretty much screwed.
I know this because my parents – who do consider themselves conservative – believe in choice. They believe in choice so much my Dad swallowed his distrust of liberal arts colleges and helped my brother get into acting school, despite his belief that it was a colossal waste of time. They believe in choice so much that they didn’t bat an eyelid when I took up a degree in sociology, despite it being stereotyped as something of an “airhead discipline” at home. They knew what it felt like to be trapped, and they did their best so that my brother and I did not have to feel this way.
It was not always so clear-cut. My family history is full of stories of painful decisions, and members struggling to come to terms with their consequences. It’s hard – especially if the other person is someone you love – to watch them make a decision that you personally disagree with, that might get them hurt, that might put them in danger – and not being able to stop them. There are so many stories, and none of them were mine to share.
But I can tell you what they taught me.
They taught me that I don’t know what goes on in someone else’s life or why they might make a certain choice.
They taught me that my personal feelings can’t stand in for a solution to that person’s dilemma.
They taught me that you can’t make someone act the way you do.
They taught me that the only thing I had control over was my own reactions to a situation.
Whether I agreed with a person or not, whether I committed to helping them out or letting them deal with the consequences of that choice, those were on me. But another person’s decisions were not mine to control; and vice versa.
This is why I will fight for your right to choose, even if we disagree on what that choice is – because when we take those choices away, we make ourselves weak. We push those who are already vulnerable to dangerous situations, and we take away accountability from the people who should be held accountable. We become disenfranchised.
And it’s not an individual problem.
It affects all of us.