Lately, I find myself repeatedly wondering whether our ability to choose is a gift at the heart of human freedom or a curse that keeps my mind preoccupied as it is now in choosing the words of this blog post. Charles Malik defines humans as struggling and caring beings, struggling because they constantly have to make irreversible choices, while caring for the impact of these choices on themselves and on others. How do we make our choices today, at a personal and global level, in a world of continuous injustice?
So the question is narrowed down to a simple “how can we know what the right choice is… if there ever was one…” Let me clarify that this is not a simple mathematical calculation of choosing the option that provides me with the highest return. I would probably define that as the “the best choice that benefits only me on the short term”. Unfortunately, and maybe fortunately, this version of the best choice is not always the right choice. The best choice for me might not be the best choice for you and so we enter into an internal debate of placing ourselves somewhere between two extremes; one of selfishness and another of sacrifice. The below paragraphs represent my modest quest in search of the right rather than the best.
I would like to think that acting upon our decisions usually involves three parties, the subject, the object, and the collateral damage or, not to be too pessimistic, collateral benefits. The choices I make can affect me, the person I am directing my choices at, and people who are not directly involved in my decision. Every day we are faced with situations of conflict with other people caused by contradictory interests, beliefs, practices, or simply bad communication skills. Let’s face it, in almost every situation of conflict, both parties involved think they are right. By thinking I am right, I feel that an injustice has been done to me and therefore I make my decisions in order to “restore that justice”.
For example, my boss scolds me in front of other employees for not being professional. I feel a certain injustice when I see my boss being unprofessional himself and doing what I myself was being scolded for (Disclaimer: this is a hypothetical situation, I am not hinting to the lack of professionalism of WYA’s president… my boss). I get the a feeling that I need to restore justice or else I will lose part of what my Arab brothers would call “dignity”, when in fact it is just pride. In fact, I think the loss of pride leads to more humility, which might not be such a bad thing after all, but that is a separate topic for another blog post. So restoring justice always caries its price, in this case I might lose my job, a promotion, or simply the good favor of my boss. So I need to make a choice, do I fight to restore my pride or do I suck it up and become a bootlicker? I personally would chose the second option and substitute the term of “sucking it up” with “making the smart choice”. I am willing to sacrifice my pride as it is born of my ego, which needs to be kept in check. However, honor is a different matter. It is built on right decisions aimed at doing good, and no I am not referring to the hereditary family honor of the European dark ages and modern Arab societies.
To complicate things further, let me consider the situation where I feel an obligation to restore justice to those who do not have the ability to do it themselves. Let me take the example regarding the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime. President Obama felt the need to restore justice by punishing Bashar through a military strike. The truth is that a military strike might have restored the heavenly sense of the word justice, but it would have led to the death of the same civilians whose justice Obama vowed to uphold. The strike would have had a short term and long term collateral damage on the Syrian population sitting idly between the two men. The short term damage refers to the civilian causalities caused by western military interventions that media likes to ignore (such as the 125,000 dead civilians between 2003 and 2013 caused by the war on Iraq). The long term damage refers to clearing the ground for Al Qaeda linked Jihadists to strengthen their grip on Syria. Luckily, Obama decided to suck it up and make the smart decision.
Restoring justice puts the person in the seat of the judge, a position for someone who supposedly knows what is right or wrong. In making that judgment, remember not to step on others as you pass your judgment and do not ignore the collateral damage you may cause. The right choice is not about your personal pride or the pride of the person you are judging, it is about doing what is best for the other people affected. Making the right choice requires a bit of humility, and in that humility you are able to find yourself and achieve a true sense of honor.
Cedric Choukeir is the regional director of the World Youth Alliance in the Middle East.