Monday, November 8, 2010

What Price Choice?

Choosing is an integral part of life in the US (yes, in some other parts of the world as well, but not all). Sometimes the choices we make require no input from anyone but ourselves; other times there may be others to consider when making our choices, whether as an individual, a group, a family, a community or the government.

Choosing what to have for breakfast is something that most people consider a personal choice. You open up the pantry or fridge and make your decision, no one else required or even welcomed. But even there there are others whose desires or wishes may become part of your choosing. A parent or spouse may have limited your choices by only buying and having certain things in the house. A medical concern or health issue may limit your choices. What's available when you shop may limit your choices.

Now open up your closet and choose something to wear today. Suddenly the 'free choice' gets murky. Where are you going today? If it's to elementary or high school, the school may have rules in place that limit your choices; the school may have a policy in place stating what can or can't be worn, and your choice comes down to what the school wants, not what you want. The weather can influence/change what you can choose. Activities you are going to participate in can limit and/or define your choices; the workplace has a number of rules about clothing, and participation in certain social events, such as a wedding, also limit your choices. Religious observance can limit your choices.

So, choice is not all that free after all. There are many other people and groups who have an interest in what we, as individuals, choose to do. And in the same way that others impinge on our choices, we also impinge on their choices: they may sometimes have to take us into consideration when making the choices they make.

Choice comes with a price tag. If your choice makes "everyone" happy then fine. But what of when your choice makes someone/everyone unhappy, angry or hurts them? What price are you willing to pay for having free choice then? Is there a price too high to have to pay for having choice? How do you decide when that is? At what point do the wishes/expectations of others become secondary to what you want? Is there such a point? Where do you draw the battle lines?

Most people move into a community expecting that they will become a part of that community in some way. They hope to make friends in that community. They hope to become members of a synagogue. They hope to send their children to the local school(s). Perhaps some have family living in that community. Many hope that they will never have to move again, putting down strong roots. Moving to Community X is a "free" choice on their part, but will it remain free? Are these people happy with the price they pay for moving to Community X? Some are, some aren't. Some are happy only some of the time. For some, the price becomes too high to pay, both literally and figuratively.

For some, it is the cost of the commute to work, in time and money, that becomes too high a price to pay. For others, the convenience of a local school or schools becomes too high a price to pay when tuition costs go spiralling upwards. Still others find themselves knuckling under to community social mores that they don't really agree with, a high price to pay for some when considering the benefits. Sometimes the municipal/governmental costs of a community become too high to pay.

We in Klal certainly have some experience with the problems of making choices. Community Y may be perfect for us in a dollar and cents way, but there is no shul in walking distance, so we can't/don't choose that community. Community Z has all the community enterprises we want, but the amount of money necessary to live in that community is far more than we know we are going to be able to manage given the things we want or need. Community Q is manageable from a money standpoint and it has the amenities we want, but it's 1000 miles away from our families and friends. Community R has all the amenities, we can afford those amenities and it's located a fairly short drive from family and friends; what it doesn't have are jobs that pay sufficient to pay for what we have to pay for. If we move to Community R then our sahm is going to also have to go to work, or one or both parents are going to have very long commutes to and from work, meaning less time spent with the family, or the working parent(s) are going to have to put in more hours to make the money needed, again meaning less time spent with family, or we are going to be able to afford less than we want/need and will have less choice.

A lot of the complaining you hear about school tuitions, about housing costs, about living costs, about just about everything is about the price we are willing to pay for our choices. If you complain about the price of a choice, then why make that choice? If a school's tuition is too high for you, why are you paying it? There are, for most people, other choices. However, what price are you willing to pay for making those other choices, and are you willing to pay it? If you are not willing to pay the price for making a change, then stop complaining about the choice you did make. You cannot have things both ways.

To get a bit specific, if you don't like the community pressure to conform that Brooklyn offers you as a choice, leave Brooklyn. If you don't like the cost of the schools in BC, commute your kids elsewhere or move out. If you don't like the 'keeping up with the Shwartzes' in the Five Towns, leave. If you don't like the high cost of living in the NY area, move oot. And if you believe that changes could be made to the place where you are residing, changes that would make you happier, then get up off the chair and work hard, harder, hardest at getting those changes instituted--don't expect the other person to do things for you.

Yes, choice is something we all want. The question is, what price are we willing to pay for it?


Anonymous said...

ProfK: Surely you aren't suggesting (as a pre-coffee read or misread might suggest) that someone not work to expand the options that result from choosing a specific neighborhood, such as by working for lower-cost schools. Yes, its silly to move to a town knowing that tuition is 15k/year for K-6 and rises at an annual rate of 4% on average and then complain that you have to work 50 hour weeks and not have the luxury of a SAHM, but what's wrong with trying to change things? Should jews not have moved to the u.s. in the 1800's and first half of the 1900's knowing that there is antisemitism? Should those that came have just accepted it, or should they have worked for civil rights and anti-discrimination laws?

ProfK said...

Reference "And if you believe that changes could be made to the place where you are residing, changes that would make you happier, then get up off the chair and work hard, harder, hardest at getting those changes instituted--don't expect the other person to do things for you."

My complaint is with those who move to/live in Community X, complain bitterly about their choices and do nothing to bring about change. It's on the order of "Put up or shut up." In those cases you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem. If you can't or won't work towards changing things then either be quiet or move. Otherwise, as Shakespeare said, they are "full of the sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Leahle said...

I'm getting that only complaining and not doing anything about the complaint means you need to make another choice. But isn't complaining sometimes the first step? A simple example. You get bad service at a store you choose to shop in. Shouldn't the first step be to complain to the manager? That's a type of taking action. If that step gets no change then you have to make a decision to shop there or not. At that point complaining about the store but still shopping there would be ridiculous.

JS said...

Good post.

The constant whining and complaining recently are just too much, in my opinion. Yes, complaining is the first step, but often, it's the only step. The worst form of complaining is that everyone should have to change but me. And it's that type of complaining that has taken over the chump blog - I make $200k so I don't have to change; the scholarship families, administrators, teachers, board members, etc. all have to change, but not me, I'm perfect just the way I am. You can present 101 different options to people like this and nothing is good enough because they shouldn't have to change. They made their choice and shouldn't have to make another one.

I think this post summarizes about 95% of the problems in klal.

Anonymous said...

Leahle: Your example about the store works for commodities where there is competition in the marketplace. The analogy doesn't work quite so well for yeshivas if the community leadership/rabbis are saying that anything other than full-time k-12 yeshiva education in a [fill in the blank - gender separated, no secular studies, whatever] is acceptable or if there is only one yeshiva in Town chargin $x.oo.

Bruce said...

I agree with you that if you don't like your choice then change it is the way to go. But there are times and places where your choice of choices can be that none of them are good or what you really want. Sometimes you are going to pay too high a price no matter which of the choice options you choose, but you have to choose one of them because not choosing is not an option. Unless you become an unmarried hermit on some mountain top and can choose to do so, you are going to run into situations where all the choices you can make stink

Anonymous said...

It's not just the individuals in klal that are making bad choices and paying a high price. Groups in klal are also making those bad choices. Some are already paying a high price and some will be paying that high price soon. There have already been some yeshiva closings because of bad choices. There will be more. You cannot choose not to work at all and not have to pay a reallly high price for that at some point.

How I see it is that some of these groups have made their choices and now they would like all the rest of us to pay the price along with them or instead of them.

JS said...


Along the lines of the topic of this post, what do you think klal is going to look like in, say, 50 years? What is the ultimate result of all the choices being made individually and as a group along with the price tag that is being paid?

Will more people be working or less people be working?

Will full-time learning be more popular or less popular? Will people be doing it for longer or shorter?

Will more of klal be located in major cities or out of town?

Will yeshivas still be sustainable or will the model of full-time private school no longer exist? Will alternate models of educating our youth become dominant?

Will klal be wealthier or poorer than it is today? Will we have more institutions or less? More charities or less?

Curious what your thoughts are. Maybe it can be another post?

ProfK said...

I'll take that posting suggestion under advisement. Some of my students already feel I'm rather "witchy" so why not add gazing into a crystal ball to the mix.