We all have Choices…or do we?
Posted by carolom on November 24, 2015
I hosted a Creativity and Conversation afternoon for a group of professional women recently and Vivienne, one of the newest members of the group brought along a delicious banana cake for morning tea.
The compliments flowed, some went back for seconds and several of us asked her for the recipe.
Vivienne laughed and called it the never-fail banana cake recipe. It’s a family recipe but I changed a few things.
I stopped mid bite to absorb her words. A family recipe.
I have worked in domestic violence shelters and prison settings for over 25 years and I recently participated in a number of social media conversations about families, lifestyles and choices. It was the 90’s when terms like you have choices and it’s your choice began to circulate.
It is a broad sweeping concept that basically says, you are free to choose differently at any moment and if you make a poor choice, you must deal with the consequences.
In the homeless sector we began to hear about choices at conferences and forums. Some took it on board as a tool for case management for working with at risk youth and young offenders.
“You have a choice” became firmly embedded in the language of homelessness and housing.
Choices could also be put on the table if a woman was facing eviction from her public housing because she had not paid her rent, citing her gambling addiction as the reason: You made the choice to gamble instead of the budget you agreed to. Unfortunately this is the consequence of your choice.
To assume a person has made a conscious, considered choice leaves little room to factor in complex issues such as post traumatic stress which can manifest as making seemingly poor choices.
Replicating the ingrained habits and behaviours that are reinforced by the social and behavioral norms of the people we spend most of our time with can also seem like a choice . However in context of social and family conditioning they are mirroring people who have enormous influence on our world view not a conscious choice at all.
“You have choices” precludes the overwhelming emotional and psychological impact of being born into systems of oppression, racism and abuse that distort a persons sense of self and the capacity to reach ones fullest potential.
Some of the women we meet in shelters and domestic violence support settings had lived at the shelter with their mothers when they were children, returning a few short years later as a young mother who is trapped in the same cycle of family violence and lifestyle “choices”.
Other women in shelter settings may be struggling with the relentless alcohol addiction that also plagues other members of her family. Is it a choice or are the implications of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder so significant yet externally invisible. In these cases choices are limited by neurological impairment.
You made the choice or you could have chosen differently assumes that because one person has the fortitude and inner strength or resilience to “choose well”, others should also be able to make the same kind of informed and considered choices when in reality many women are struggling simply to overcome the impact of past events and feeling unsafe in the world.
Unfortunately minds that are filled with fear, stress and chaos are not always well equipped to make considered choices.
Back to Vivienne’s fabulous banana cake and the recipe that her mother had received from her grandmother that was then tweaked and changed in Vivienne’s kitchen.
Her changes included adding crushed walnuts to the batter and brushing a light lemon syrup over the top of the cake before the icing.
Many family recipes remain unchanged, handed down through old note books and cook books without a single adjustment made to any of the ingredients or formula
Some women are able to improve upon a great recipe and others completely throw out the old one and rid themselves of the predictable serving that has been handed down through the generations.
Most of us can think of an old recipe or formula that we learnt in the family home and decided to re-work and let go of once we left the nest that imprinted us with who we are and how to move in the world.
In shelters these change makers are the women we support and cheer on!
We recognise that she is courageous and brave to make a conscious choice to explore a different lifestyle recipe for her self and her children.
We know she will have to work very hard to acquire all of the ingredients and skills she will need and there will be times when old habits and familiar formulas will distract her along the path of obstacles that she will face.
What about those who are repeating “poor” choices that could be identified as the attraction to the bad boy characters who feature in so many of our group conversations?
As one woman said “Every guy I’ve ever loved has either been to jail or he should have but didn’t get caught”. Many of the women in her family and social circle had similar patterns.
What about the woman who hasn’t fully realized that the choice to allow him back into her life is a recipe for disaster?
We love her any way!
We continue to believe in her, support her and offer her different tools for navigating her lifestyle.
We recognise that what might seem to be a very poor choice on a daily basis to some people is perhaps the very thing that is keeping her afloat at this point in time.
In shelters we meet women who are very new to the concept of self agency and the power they have to choose differently.
I created the C.H.O.I.C.E.S. acronym for discussion during our Art of Change group and whilst it encourages strong and informed choice making, we also discuss the some of the limitations and road blocks that are in place when it comes to navigating those words you can choose differently at any time…
Carol Omer bio:
Carol Omer is a certified Life Coach and artist. She specialises in creativity based empowerment and healing programs for women. Carol recently launched The Big Girls Little Coloring Book, a life coaching colouring book for women.