A comment posted in response to my previous article for Gibburt, contained a reference to the excellent TED talk of psychologist Barry Schwarz. This presentation touched upon a few critical issues regarding how we deal with our daily choices. Especially the mentioned phenomenon of self-blame intrigued me and convinced me to write a Gibburt article about it.
In his talk Schwarz argues that western society has long passed the point where an even greater variety of choices will not only not increase, but actually decrease our combined happiness. Paralysis in the face of those choices and unrealistically high expectations caused by the amount of choices are some of the reasons he holds responsible for this decreasing sense of happiness. The phenomenon of self-blame is another of those reasons. He argues that, because it is perceived that all options necessary for success are now available, there is no one left to blame for failure anymore, except ourselves.
In order to asses this phenomenon a bit more closely I would like to look at a number of types of situations where self-blame might occur. There are situations, where the expertise required to make a successful choice is so extensive that even with proper advice it is practically impossible to bear full responsibility for one’s choices, for example medical situations. Furthermore there are situations which are simply trivial and we would not want to spend any effort on them, like the more than 100 salad dressing choices Schwarz offers. I can agree that self-blame in both of these types of situations will be very counter productive.
On the other hand there simply are many situations that deserve to be taken seriously and in which failure can and should be attributed to ourselves. Facing up to these situations will make us grow and will help us to prevent similar situations in the future. Self-blame here is nothing more than accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. It might even be a motivator to take that extra step.
Summarizing I would like to say I appreciate Schwarz’s insights in how we deal with choice on a day to day basis. Understanding these mechanisms will help us to gain the maturity we need to be able to spend our decision making energy wisely and to be there to take responsibility when we need to. This way we can learn how to limit our choices ourselves and we will not have to depend on someone else to limit our choices for us.
Judging both from my previous article and the observations above, you may have guessed that issues related to the responsibility and, as such, the freedom of the individual are of special interest to me. I intend to post a number of articles over the coming months that will explore different sides of this issue. These articles will all be tagged responsibility, freedom and maturity. Please feel free to provide any comments you like as I am more than interested in other views about these topics.