My previous two posts dealt with the impact of our choices on ourselves: producing success or failure; building a better or worse you.
For me, the most overwhelming aspect of choice resides in our capacity to hurt or help others.
The Power to Hurt
If my bad choices ruin my own life, build a me that is less than admirable, I brought these results on myself, and as the saying goes, “You did the crime, now you have to do the time.”
However, I find it devastating when my bad choices have hurt others, especially people who trusted me whose trust I betrayed. Perhaps most painful are cases in which there is no way to compensate for the damage done. But even if somehow I could repay for my wrong choices, that does not eradicate the suffering I caused because I failed to be kind or responsible or thoughtful or because I was just plain selfish. I find this the weightiest aspect of possessing the power of human choice.
The reality of our power to inflict pain on others by our choices reveals itself in the disciples’ response to Jesus’ pronouncement that divorce is impermissible except in the case of adultery. In light of this binding nature of marriage they concluded, “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10 NKJV) They recognized that in such a binding relationship a spouse can inflict unspeakable pain, and there is no escape.
This observation underscores the reality that we have the capacity to perpetrate the greatest pain on those closest to us. Occasionally on television news we see a man accused of a crime being interviewed by a reporter with his wife standing by his side. How awful it must be to bring such embarrassment on a spouse. When hearing about a man being convicted of a crime, I often wonder what it will be like for his kids to walk into school the next day. If the convicted person has any sensitivity at all, even worse than the sentence must be the harm he has done to his family, in most cases people who are totally innocent.
This capacity to hurt others, especially those closest to us, should cause all of us to carefully think through our choices, especially their impact on others, and should motivate us to make moral and loving decisions.
The Power to Bless
Then there is the good news. We can make choices that bring blessing to others.
It was a difficult decision for Ronald Reagan, one opposed by many of his advisors, to stand at the Brandenburg gate in Berlin on June 12, 1987, and pronounce, “General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Yet undoubtedly in large measure because President Reagan possessed the character and courage to make that speech that wall came down in 1990, freeing millions who were imprisoned behind it.
Though none of us may ever have the opportunity to make such a profound impact on so many lives, every day we are provided with opportunities to be a blessing to those around us, those closest to us. By choosing to be moral, responsible, kind, loving, and thoughtful, we can bring joy, peace, encouragement, and edification to the lives of those whom we are privileged to touch.
A smile to a person walking by can make all the difference. Dr. Jerome Motto records his visit to a man’s apartment after he jumped to his death from the Golden gate Bridge:
“I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner….The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.'”
How will your choices effect the lives of others today? You can never tell.