We may not have much control over the environment we live in, but we certainly can determine our response to people and situations

When working with groups and talking about choice, I often ask whether others are responsible for, or can make us happy or angry. Often the response I receive is that it is possible for others to influence our choice.

Let us assume a situation (and this has often happened to many of us) where an individual comes up to us and shouts at us. On one occasion, when this occurs, we shout back. Yet when the situation repeats itself with perhaps the same person on another day, we choose to ignore the individual. It is interesting to note that on both the days we were being provoked yet, on one day, we reacted and, on another, we did not. This establishes that the other individual can only create an environment for me to get angry or not; but whether I get angry or not is my choice. Though I do not have much control over the environment I live in, I certainly can determine the response I wish to give. Many times we believe we have no choice. This is untrue. What we do not have control over is the outcome. Let us say, for instance, we wish to travel to a particular destination. Once the choice is made, we have no control over whether we will get there or not. This is because there are several variables that are beyond us. However, when we make the choice the consequences that go with it are ours to contend with. Thus, what we can do is only respond to the consequences that we can control.

A social worker, interviewing a family, met the two sons of the household. One had turned out to be an alcoholic, while the other had become a lawyer. Curious to know how the two were so different the social worker asked each son, what had compelled him to become who he was? The alcoholic son replied that he had only followed in the footsteps of his father. The lawyer responded by saying he had chosen to live a life of sobriety for his father had been an alcoholic. Two sons had grown up in the same environment, yet their choices were different.

(The writer is an organisational and behavioural consultant. He can be contacted at ttsrinath@vsnl.net)