This year in my Ethics class, I've begun a system of--every other week--having my students write in response to a prompt. They have composition books for the occasion, and so I'll put the prompt on the board, give them fifteen minutes of nonstop, quiet writing time, and then collect the books. I read each one for a completion grade, finding some fascinating details in the way they think.
Because I don't require my students do something I wouldn't do myself, I write along with them and share my thoughts afterward. Thus, I thought, why not do the same here on my blog. So the first question of the year from back in August went as follows:
Which do you believe has had more impact on your life, the situations you find yourself in, or the choices you make? Why do you say that?
My response? Here goes...
Of course, I would like to say choices. That might betray an insane sense of control-freak nature, but there it is. What impacts me? I can say I chose to date and love and marry my wife. I chose the college and grad school I attended. I chose jobs that were offered to me. It seems like a slam dunk. Then again, don't choices arise from the situations we find ourselves in? Do my attitudes about finances, faith, friendship, family, education, sexuality and a host of other items on that pile and beyond--don't they trace back to the fact that I was born in a small northeast Kansas town, that I have moved around the country with some regularity in a white, generally middle-class family headed by a Presbyterian pastor, and that I'm the oldest of three boys? What if I was raised in inner-city Detroit wanting a good life, wanting wealth and upward mobility, but discovering that a poorer family and different schools might have difficulty giving that push? What then? What if I was raised in Communist East Germany from birth through my first nineteen years (when the Berlin Wall would've fallen)? I'd likely have markedly different ideas about faith (maybe atheist), finances (the economy would be regulated and there'd be fewer opportunities for wealth creation) and so on. Maybe a better question is "What is the relation between our choices and the situations we find ourselves in?" I know that Dumbledore told Harry Potter that we are defined by our choices--that makes for a great movie quote. And it's not that those choices are insignificant; it'd be terrible if they weren't. But the flowers of our decisions--my decisions--bloom in a meadow that we don't plant but where we live nonetheless. Maybe the best we can hope for is to enjoy our choices and be bold enough to change the situations we're in that we can make impact in ways we never imagined. You go to school, you learn botany, you plant a tree in your two-acre yard based on that knowledge, and it's an apple tree. And one night during a blustery storm, a pregnant stray dog takes shelter under that tree and apples fallen from that tree sustain her until you discover her the next day. And she gives birth to a litter of puppies which your family can't imagine being without. Something like that. And...ahhhh, fifteen minutes are up!