We are our choices
By Jim Coogan
Almost monthly we see newspaper stories featuring people who have reached bottom. Whether it’s a result of substance abuse, a low paying job, loss of employment altogether or maybe facing prison for a crime, these individuals are portrayed as victims of a cruel environment where the cards were stacked against them from the start. .
Reading through these sad stories, one at first is moved at the plight of the featured individual. They are about to be evicted from their motel room, have used up all of the assistance available and are being forced to leave the state. They have no family to turn to. Usually there are children involved so it compounds the tragedy. But there is always more to the story. At about paragraph 12, we find that the person who is down and out dropped out of school. They had a child at 17, another at 20, and now at age 30 have another—all three by different fathers who are nowhere in the picture. If it’s a male, he’s also a school dropout, been in prison for some minor offense and is responsible for a child or two that he can’t support. He’s had a checkered work history and currently can’t find a job.
These are the typical scenarios of most of the people who end up falling through society’s cracks. And as much as their stories are heart wrenching—and they certainly are, the fact is that with few exceptions, most of these poor souls are where they are because they’ve made bad choices.
Am I being judgmental here? Certainly I am. I’ll admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable doing it. And my liberal friends will be aghast at my unwillingness to see the whole picture. “You’re not taking into consideration the circumstances,” they will say. “You can’t hold people responsible for the environments they came from.”
I beg to differ. There’ no doubt that some people clearly have more options than others. A wealthy white person has a wider range than say, a poor person of color. Women have historically had a more narrow range of alternatives than do men. But everyone has choices. Ultimately we decide who we will be when we make them
Rarely do I find myself standing with conservatives on just about anything. But they all agree, as do I, on three fairly basic rules that can give anyone, regardless of background, a better than even chance of success in this society. The first rule is finish high school. The second is not to have a child before marriage. And the third? Don’t get arrested before the age of 25.
It’s hard to argue against that.