The power of choice

The freedom to be able to make a choice is a powerful thing.

Here in Ireland we take that freedom for granted; even worse, we make choices and then hide behind our decisions – often pointing the finger of blame elsewhere instead of taking full responsibility for our own actions.

Even more horrendous are those that choose to put their business, or their ‘right’ to make profit ahead of everything else and what’s best for society.

Think of the Garth Brooks saga earlier this year in Dublin when it was repeatedly suggested that a loophole within our planning regulations should be created. The justification? The millions and millions of precious euro at stake.

We see the same for proposed developments that we know will utterly change the heart and soul of a community but are pushed forward regardless because of the economic benefits they will bring. Who protects communities?

It’s as if Ireland’s sole and main objective is creating wealthy – but only for those in a position to benefit. The rest of us can protest on the streets, but – ultimately – we won’t be allowed into the corridors of influence.

Every time we demand change, it needs to be justified economically rather than what might be best for society or for the greater good.

Choosing to do the right thing is often harder and more expensive than doing whatever suits you first and foremost. Sporting entities chase every penny rather than giving back to the community they are supported by, politicians put themselves forward for important roles that they know they cannot fulfill completely – and these are just two examples we have seen recently.

Is that democracy in operation? Is that simply freedom of choice and enterprise at work?

In the midst of a magazine cover telling us that ‘the good times are back’, people are still queuing in the rain outside of the Social Welfare office in Cork city centre on a Friday morning, businesses are still closing despite frantic efforts to remain open and four people without homes have died on Leeside in recent weeks.

Where can we point the finger of blame?

Back at Fianna Fáil, who – we’re still told – ruined the country? Over to the Government that has been making plenty of decisions in the last couple of years? Does it go back further than that? Where did this ethos of putting business interests first, before everything else, come from? What role has the wider Irish society played?

If the recession taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need as much as we think we do to survive and have a decent life. It also showed us that money doesn’t solve everything, that compassion and kindness can make the world go around and that in co-operating with each other and working together, we can thrive and making a meaningful difference.

We have the freedom to choose day in day out: to make the society directly around us a better place. But we need to choose to do that; it will not just happen of its own accord.

I was very struck by a whole lot of what actress Emily Watson said at the UN when speaking about women’s rights. The following eight words in particular: If not me, who? If not now, when?

There are few people out there, I imagine, that would argue against a fairer society that treated every single person with the utmost respect. However, the same ideal can only be created by us all. Little by little, day after day, in our actions, words, and – yes, you guessed it – our choices.

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