The Freedom to Choose

by | Nov 1, 2022 | Needs, Nonviolent Communication

A few days ago, I took my daughter to vote for her first time.  

We viewed the sample ballots online ahead of time to make sure we knew what it would look like and who we might want to read about further, researched candidates online to learn more about some choices and then went down to city hall to vote.  

This November, the election results feel incredibly high-stakes to me. As we each turned in our sealed ballots, I found myself wondering if that one little paper really makes any difference whatsoever.  The political forces at work in the world today feel so huge, entrenched and overwhelming, do any of us really make a difference at all?  

And then I remembered to tell myself the thing that I often tell you:  We say the thing, we do the deed, we take the stand, not because we can control the outcomes, but because in the saying, the doing and the standing-for, we get to actively live into who we want to be in the world.  

We drop our attachment to controlling outcomes and we ask ourselves who we want to be in any given situation.  

For myself, I want to live in a world … 

  • Where we honor one another’s freedom of choice, autonomy to seek meaning and purpose for ourselves, and live together in peace with goodwill.  
  • In which we work together collectively for the good of the whole, for the good of all people.  
  • In which we care about one another, and strive to understand, honor and respect one another.  
  • In which wisdom emerges from an intelligent interplay between intuition, spirituality and science.  
  • In which we engage critically and creatively with the problems of our times, seeking solutions to serve humanity and life on the planet, not corporate greed and individual egos.  
  • In which we each retain the right and autonomy to make choices about our bodies, our clothes, and our religious practices and beliefs. 

Systems of government that serve the interests of a few at the expense of the many are dangerous and generate great suffering worldwide.  

As I watch the news coming out of Iran, for example, I am chilled by and horrified at the level of violence and “legitimized” murder of Iranian citizens who are speaking out against the repressive regime they’ve been living under, and simultaneously inspired by the young people who keep putting their lives on the line for freedom and choice. It breaks my heart.  As I hear story after story of teenagers, artists, and singers being arrested and killed for speaking out against the regime, I feel grief and anguish.  

There aren’t many people I can talk to about this.  When I mention it to my daughter, she gets angry with me.  “Mom, I don’t want to hear about it; there’s nothing I can do.”  I feel her powerlessness and her desire to avoid it.  I feel it too.  

And yet, to be conscious, alive and awake in our world today means also being aware of unprecedented harm and violence rising up around us.  When we block our willingness to be in touch with the pain of the world, we block our own vitality.  As Joanna Macy puts it, “It’s not a local anesthetic. If we won’t feel pain, we won’t feel much else either.  Repression of our anguish for the world weakens our cognitive functioning … there’s less of our natural intelligence available to us.”  

It’s problematic to try to avoid and repress the pain of the world, pretending that it doesn’t matter, that it’s “over there” or that it doesn’t impact us.  As Thomas Merton once wisely said,  “The truth many people never understand until it’s too late is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer.”  Compassion is the act of “suffering with” and when we are willing to feel the pain of the world around us, we remain alive and awake to what truly matters.  

In  Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy identifies “three mutually reinforcing poisons at the root of human suffering: greed, aggression and delusion,” and points out how even though social, political and economic systems worldwide are unraveling, we can still choose compassion, wisdom and life-serving choices in all that we do.  

So, as I think about voting in elections, about the work that I do in the world, about global events I am willing to hold in my heart, I remind myself that I act and choose consciously, for the sake of a free, democratic, peaceful, compassionate and liveable world. 

I make an effort to root out the personal and individual ways in which greed, aggression and delusion may lead me astray.  I may not be able to change it “out there,” but I can definitely clean it up “in here.”  I discover who I am, and what I stand for, by the choices that I make when faced with seemingly impossible options.  

And finally, for those of you with the ability to vote in these elections, please take this right and privilege seriously; don’t waste it.  

Let’s vote for people who are trying to make the world a better place for all people, not just the people who think like they do.  For people who don’t rise to power by turning people against each other and then profit from human suffering and illness.  Let’s vote for people who have integrity, humility and truly want to serve the collective well-being of the greatest number of people.  

And, let’s remember a few fine distinctions: 

  • Standing for what I believe in is not the same thing as imposing my beliefs upon you and forcing you to live according to my beliefs.
  • Living into my values is not the same as imposing my values upon you. 
  • Making choices that are good for me does not give me the right to impose those same choices upon you.

Human beings around the world have strong drives for freedom, autonomy, choice, meaning and purpose.  As you go out to vote this week (please do!), I hope you’ll consider supporting people, policies and government systems – imperfect as they may be – that are the most invested in protecting those rights and freedoms for all of us, not just a few of us.

Who are you longing to be in the world?  I’d love to know.  Please leave a comment below.


  1. Leah

    Dear Yvette, you may certainly discuss these things with me! OMG, the lost soul who attacked Speaker Polosi’s husband last week spent years in my home town of Berkeley. As I have often said, I had to go live in Kansas for 17 years to undo the damaged social engagement system that I acquired here. Not only was home traumatic, but my town was full of people who thought that Jung, Hari Krishna or free love held “answers,” when in fact, many who fled their dysfunctional families and who remained estranged from them, brought their impaired intimacy skills with them. It was very hard to find friends growing up, whereas in a relatively intact Topeka Kansas of the 80’s I found such kind emotionally healthy people I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven.

    Last week I quoted the 19-year-old mass shooter in St. Louis, who left a note about his intense loneliness. He literally said, “this is what creates mass shooters.” The need to belong, for all of us, is intense, as we can also see with Pelosi’s attacker, David DePape, who had not only been estranged from his own family for 20 years, but was a leftist in a nudist colony who then swing to the extreme right conspiracy theorists. So what you do and the skills that you teach each and every week are truly the most anyone can do. And I thank you.
    As Maureen Dowd, a NY Times columnist wrote, she no longer cares about Halloween, because we are living in horror every single day.
    What helps me is to know (as I have said before) that there is truly only safety in each breath I take and each new day that I get on earth. When I wake up I am realistic that a holocaust can absolutely happen again (we are already in pre-WWII conditions), that I might be attacked or get another cancer, so I leap out of bed, and am thrilled to still be alive for one more day. I get to have the joy of mutual interaction with my spouse and increasingly my sibling for one more day. I get to reclaim on my own terms my violent Mum, and frankly that is good enough. During times like these, for me, it has to be, otherwise I would not enjoy my days as I do. So facing this dire time I think is really crucial to getting the most that we can out of how ever much longer we have: be it a week, or a year, or wow, could it be? Maybe even a decade.

  2. Suzann Long

    Many,many thanks for offering this statement again. voting is an expression of who we long to be in the world. I am supporting those I think “are seeking solutions to serve humanity and life the planet” and”are most invested in protecting>>>rights and freedoms for all of us, not just a few”.Thank you again for inspiring and teaching the beliefs and skills so we can contribute to this endeavor.
    Lisa , thank you for sharing your story and insights and info .


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