Thursday, June 14, 2012


We read Ender's Game for our last book club meeting, which is one of my all time favorite books - one of the few I've read over and over. Each time I read it, I can remember so vividly how I felt the first time I read it, and how I stayed up WAY past my bedtime, gulping it down as fast as I could. It was interesting discussing it with other people, and especially people who were reading it for the first time as adults - they definitely questioned somethings that I had never considered. (Also, why, Mr. Card, did you have the only female soldier also be the only one to break down during battle? Gender stereotyping much?)

Anyway, one of the major themes of the book is that of Choice, and led to some really great discussion. Why do we cling to choice so much? Why do we consider it one of our basic human rights? In the book, Ender's choices get boiled down to very black and white binary decisions as part of his "training." In military style, he must decide to kill or be killed. As a group, we, in a way, lamented his lack of options. But how much choice do we really have in our lives, anyway? We are pushed and pulled by so many forces beyond our control, and shaped into people before we realize we might want it another way. In the book, Ender's sister, Valentine, says, "Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles give you by good people, by people who love you."

Personally, I am a big fan of compromises and exhausting options, until a win-win-win scenario can be reached. I hate the idea of limited options. Plus, I hate to lose, I want to get what I want - but I don't really want you to lose either. Isn't it best if we are all happy?

Of course, though, too many choices can be a bad thing. There was a great Radiolab podcast on choice (check it out here) and there's a theory that the 20-something malaise many people are experiencing might be the result of having TOO many options. In a sense, we end up feeling paralyzed or distressed, because what if I make the wrong decision? What if I pick the wrong major, the wrong grad school, the wrong career? I had ALL of these options, and I picked the wrong one?! It's a lot of pressure. Life was so much simpler when you were just funneled into the same career as your parents...but then that was the other extreme when you had almost no options, and the second you start telling me that I HAVE to do something, I completely rebel. (Just ask my husband.)

That was my first knee-jerk reaction when I heard about Mayor Bloomberg's ban on selling greater than 16 oz sugary drinks in NYC. Who are you to tell me how big my drink can be?! FINE. I don't even drink soda very often, but I'm going to buy TWO 16 oz sodas (Ha!) and drink them right in front of you.

Plus, I think it is basically just a political move that is putting a bandaid over the problem. We can't have a 20 oz soda, but we can have a Big Mac? We can't have a 20 oz soda, but we can have vodka and cigarettes? It's a superficial solution to a much deeper systemic issue. I still feel that way, but upon deeper reflection and discussion with people who are smarter than me (Beth), I do actually think it's a good thing. If only because people are talking about it! It's getting a lot of publicity and bringing a lot of attention to the fact that sugary drinks are useless calories, and there's certainly no reason we need to put a Big Gulp of soda into our bodies. Everything in moderation! Limiting size is a good step in that direction. When something is available, you're more likely to take advantage of it, if for no other reason than because you can, and we live in a culture of More is Better, so you might as well get the bang for your buck!

Still, I often find myself wishing things were simpler. There are so many choices, and so much advertising to mislead us. I wish someone would just tell me which one is the RIGHT, BEST fill in the blank here. Especially when it comes to natural products. There's so much nonsense out there masquerading as something that is Good For You when it's really not. Eating healthy is not as simple as it seems either, there is so much information to hold in your head at once - you need to get enough vitamins, but not too much fat, or this other kind of fat, or this other kind of fat, or too many calories, or too much salt, or too much sugar, you should really buy this and this organic, and buy local but how close is local? There are so many moving parts, and the vast majority of us don't have an adequate enough working memory to hold on to all that information and still make a good decision! (In fact, in that Radiolab podcast, they talk about a study where they found that when your working memory is especially taxed, you're actually MORE likely to make an unhealthy food choice!)

Again though, I like to have options. And yet, in our discussion, I found myself saying that people using food stamps should be limited to being able to buy only healthy food, rather than junk food. If you have limited means, you should buy what you need, rather than what you want. And in a way, these limitations could serve as a form of education about what is healthy and what is not. However, isn't this taking away what many consider a 'basic human right' - choice? And if you are a person with limited means to begin with, there are probably many, many ways in which your options are already limited and it's not a good thing either for people to feel so brow-beaten and helpless that they stop trying to help themselves, because what's the point anyway? Beth (I told you she was smart) also made the point that when you're only allowed one thing, later, once you can make more choices, you never want that one thing again. So if people on food stamps are only allowed fruits and vegetables, perhaps it's not a form of education, but a guaranteed way to get those people to only want to eat junk food later because they CAN. Isn't that why diets don't work? As soon as you aren't allowed something, it's all you want!

I guess I don't know the answer. Maybe the solution should be less punitive and more positive (gotta get some school psych philosophy in here somehow!) We don't necessarily limit what can be bought with food stamps, but provide bonuses to people who make healthy choices, like an incentive system.

Actually, could someone sign me up for that too, please?