“We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being…Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness.”
REPORTER’S NOTE: Choice and freedom are next of kin. For example, created as free agent beings, we choose to come to Christ and choose to follow Him. However, the personal freedom and choice discussed in this report are substantively different. Choice and freedom are divine gifts, granted us by a God who wanted children, not robots. They are not, as we have come to view them in society, legislated rights—like abortion, euthanasia, etc.—that can be bought or sold, figuratively speaking, in the backrooms of Congress or the Supreme Court. While I’ll be the first to thank God for the American Constitution and the myriad privileges we enjoy in this country, I also recognize that these freedoms have been, and are easily, abused. It is why Christianity is crucial to a healthy democracy and why Charles Carroll, one of our Founding Fathers, said: ” Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” -Teresa Neumann
“Americans live in a political, social, and historical context that advances personal freedom, choice, and self-determination above all else,” write authors Hazel Rose Markus (Stanford University) and Barry Schwartz (Swarthmore College). “Contemporary psychology has proliferated this emphasis on choice and self-determination as the key to healthy psychological functioning.”
The authors point out that this emphasis on choice and freedom is not universal. “The picture presented by a half-century of research may present an accurate picture of the psychological importance of choice, freedom, and autonomy among middle-class, college-educated Americans, but this is a picture that leaves about 95 percent of the world’s population outside its frame,” the authors write.
The authors reviewed a body of research surrounding the cultural ideas surrounding choice. They found that among non-Western cultures and among working-class Westerners, freedom and choice are less important or mean something different than they do for the university-educated people who have participated in psychological research on choice.
“And even what counts as a ‘choice’ may be different for non-Westerners than it is for Westerners,” the authors write. “Moreover, the enormous opportunity for growth and self-advancement that flows from unlimited freedom of choice may diminish rather than enhance subjective well-being.”
People can become paralyzed by unlimited choice, and find less satisfaction with their decisions. Choice can also foster a lack of empathy, the authors found, because it can focus people on their own preferences and on themselves at the expense of the preferences of others and of society as a whole.
“We cannot assume that choice, as understood by educated, affluent Westerners, is a universal aspiration, and that the provision of choice will necessarily foster freedom and well-being,” the authors write. “Even in contexts where choice can foster freedom, empowerment, and independence, it is not an unalloyed good. Choice can also produce a numbing uncertainty, depression, and selfishness.”