“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice” – William James
Choices exist all round us. The error with some thinking is that not choosing or waiting for the dilemma to dissemble is a valid non-choice. This fallacy is the cornerstone of many arm-chair leaders. Retrospective leadership is not leadership. Being passive and waiting for an important epiphany to come or a muse to strike is a sign of trapping the self into inertness. Of course being inactive in choice is different from rest and self-discovery.
This reminds me of a story I want to write. And like all great stories it may never be fully written but the ember of an idea is what keeps this story alive. Better a pure parable than a convoluted cacophony of words:
In a country a far distance from the real world, in a land where the guilty knew they were guilty and the innocent were treasured, there was a unique prison system. No one ever escaped even though they could walk out of the prison at any time. This innovative incarceration system locked all of the guilty parties in a single large room. This large room was entirely empty except for two large doors. One door, the prisoners were told, when entered and the door shut completely behind them would lead to a pardoned freedom back in the outside world. The other door, they were told, when entered and the door shut completely behind them would open a trap door in which would lead to instant death. There was also plenty of food and water so the prisoners could take their time choosing what door. No prisoner knew what door lead to freedom or death. All the prisoners knew that once a door was closed they could not hear the results. The guilty prisoners never opened either door; they making a choice that could lead them to their death. And so the room filled more and more with guilty convicted prisoners while the few who were wrongfully convicted walked into freedom. What the prisoners did not know was that both doors led to pardons and entry back into the world; there was no instant death pit.
It is a misconception to say that the guilty have no fear. It is the reverse. The guilty have a fear, a different kind of fear: the fear of divine justice or natural consequences. The innocent on the other hand had nothing to fear – even if the death pit was real they knew that a higher power would hold those who falsely imprisoned them accountable.
The failure to choose is in fact a choice. One that is worse off than making a choice and failing. Theodore Roosevelt gave a great speech in France in 1910, in which he said:
“It is not the critic who counts, or how the strongman stumbled and fell, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, and who spends himself in a worthy cause. If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that he may never be one of those cold and timid souls, who know neither victory nor defeat.”
There are too many timid souls today who have never tasted the bitterness of victory or the glory of defeat.