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The Choice No One Should Have to Make

No one should ever have to choose between doing the right thing and being happy.

It’s a variation on what’s sometimes called a Hobson’s Choice (though Wikipedia has just informed me that it’s more correctly called Morton’s Fork). It’s also pretty similar to Sophie’s Choice.

I was reading this article, where the author says, “Psychologists assumed that their patients wanted to be happy, failing to notice that, for many people, being good is more important than being happy.” Made me realize something. Wherever society is immoral, its members must choose between being good and being happy. You must make the choice, though it’s a choice you should never have had to make. The rule holds regardless of the size of the society; it can be as small as two people or as large as everyone.

What’s wrong with a world that forces this kind of choice? Keep reading.

Whenever you are given a choice that in a just universe would never have been forced upon you, you are choosing between good and happy. When the IRS put a lien on my property—threatening to destroy my credit rating and any hope of buying my first home—I had to make that choice. The lien was the result of their own error, doubly overcharging me for taxes for several years by complete mistake, and yet there was no one there who cared and no way to rectify it without years of struggle and ruined credit and, eventually, paying as much in attorney’s fees as the IRS erroneously claimed I owed them. I had the documentation to prove my case, but because I shared a household with other roommates, some of whom were cheating on their taxes, to do so would have exposed them to auditing and gotten people I care about in trouble. So, you see, even though I had never cheated on my taxes, I had to choose between doing what was good for the ones I loved and what would have made me happy. I choose “good” and forked over thousands of dollars to a corrupted organization, and was miserable. I was forced into the choice by a broken system consisting of one honest person, a couple of dishonest people, and a badly malfunctioning government agency. Had the system been healthy, the choice would have never been presented.

“It is no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
—Krishnamurti

In a just system, doing good and being happy are one. In a happy marriage, for example, doing good for your spouse makes you happy. But in a miserable one, doing good makes you miserable. That’s how you know you’re in a dysfunctional relationship: when making the right choice results in misery. If doing what’s good for your kids hurts your spouse, the system is broken. If giving your lover a romantic gift makes her angry (“I didn’t ask for flowers!”), the system is broken. If spending quality time with your friends makes your sweetheart sad or punitive, the system is broken. If telling your partner the truth usually hurts them, the system is broken. You must lie to spare them. You now have to choose between being good and being happy.

Hypersensitivity to pain, neediness, abusiveness, intolerance, jealousy, codependence, emotional fragility—these are just a handful of the many defects which cause this dilemma. If you have any of these debilitating emotional illnesses, stop blaming anyone but yourself. You are making your partner choose between goodness and happiness. Cut it out.

Hugh McLeod said, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” For the most part he was right, but it’s a sick society where such a choice would have to be made.

A company which is unresponsive to its customers is forcing them to choose between morality and happiness. (Ever had to lie in order to get what you paid for and were promised?) A voter who demands that candidates pass a religious test is forcing them to lie and exaggerate to impress them. A judgmental, self-righteous, intolerant bully forces people to either cower to keep the peace, or adopt bullying tactics just to stand up to him. All these people need to wise up and cut it out. Because whatever follows is their fault.

If you are broken, you are breaking the system you belong to. Someone, somewhere, will have to either commit an immoral act to be happy— or do what’s right and be miserable for it. Do your part to not impose this choice on others. Fix yourself first. Then fix the system.

How? Always reward people for doing good. Never punish them for trying, even if they fail.

Have you ever had to make a choice you never should have had to make?

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