Oh, the politics of choice.
Every time the waiter lingers around our table, we keep saying, “5 more minutes please.” This is why I love being vegetarian. Restaurants that serve vegetarian food often mark their vegetarian meals on the menu with a green leaf or a big ‘V’ and even though my choices are limited, I’m happy because I don’t have to sift through 999 decisions to fill my tummy.
I once dated a guy who was always unhappy with what he ordered and always preferred what was on my plate. Soon, he learnt to say, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Until he spotted the all-you-can-eat buffet.
We live in the generation of expanded choice. We live in a perpetual ‘Baskin & Robbins’ framework where everything is about endless flavors, colours and toppings. Shopping aisles are longer, clothing racks go higher, experience lists trail to the floor and we can download a new app every second.
In the UK, “Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.”* In California, an experiment was conducted in a supermarket. Researchers set up two promotional stands. The first offered taste tests of 24 different jams and the other offered just 6. Shoppers who sampled were given discount vouchers to buy that same brand of jam. More people stopped at the stand with 24 jams. But when it came to buying, 30% of those who stopped at the table with 6 jam options ended up purchasing, while only 3% of those who sampled at the 24-option table, ended up buying.*
My problem with all this choice? My heart is not jam.
I think this libertarian concept of choice makes us perpetual shoppers and restaurant visitors. While it’s great to know that we have 101 craft beers to generate a beer burp, why should we have order envy when it comes to matters of the heart?
When we are in the love trance, induced by the release in our body of all the ‘ines’ – dopamine, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine – every other jam on the shelf disappears. But the moment one has sampled three quarters of the jar and the ‘use by’ date looms, one is in search of something else – it might not even be jam. It might be Bovril. Or worse still, fish paste. But we’ll know the right thing when we see it. Or will we?
Choice is proof of liberation. Choice is a sign of evolution and innovation. But the ability to make a life decision and not have FOMO is a mark of character. The ability to know one’s heart, to trust one’s gut and to see the long-term benefit of a good call is the mark of maturity.
I’m not saying that people aren’t allowed to change their minds. Or that what was offered on the menu doesn’t always look the same on the plate. Or that you can be a taste-tester for life without ever picking a favourite. But I am saying that when you utter those three big words, you should have thought about it for quite some time. Even if it means the waiter has to come back in an hour.
Admittedly, I have now taken the supermarket and menu analogy a little too far. Enter the Martial Arts analogy. Remember that classic Bruce Lee moment from “Enter the Dragon?” Even if you do, watch it again here:
Ahh, I love it. Bruce Lee was wiser than his roundhouse kick. He knew that nothing in life can be executed beautifully without the right intent. I believe that the choice warehouse makes us less human. It removes emotional content, the concept of consequence and the ability to enjoy the glory of what is with us right now.
My heart is on the shelf again. And that’s okay. But this time, it ain’t hopping off willingly into just anyone’s trolley – especially if there are one too many jam jars in that trolley.
*Source: The Economist “The Tyranny of Choice: You choose.” Dec 16, 2010 http://www.economist.com/node/17723028