Freedom Of Choice is The One God Doesn’t Interfere With… But Humans!

This will be the last in a four-piece “think series”, that I wrote for myself, because I like to get ideas out of my head, but seems to be of some value to one or two people. I began by telling people there is no such thing as magic coins, then I arrogantly advised strangers on the state of their marriages, and finally proceeded to give people existential headaches while citing a well-known, and self-confessed “magician”, as a source. Now I want to wrap it all up by telling you about the time I met Isha Sesay in a hotel lobby in Kigali and reflected on over 10 years of life over a 10-second encounter.

One of the most important chance encounters in my life lasted a little over 10 seconds and didn’t even register until 20 minutes later. 

In 2007, if you asked me what I romantically want in a woman I had a crystal clear answer. Isha Sesay! Pretty, smart, pretty, well versed in international affairs, pretty, a global level personality, pretty, well-spoken, pretty, funny, pretty, oozing confidence, and, most importantly, pretty. At 20 years old, I was studying Mass Communications with the intention of being a journalist. She was in a sense, an olympian goddess of all my desires (vocational and amorous) made flesh. I had a religious habit of soaking in some CNN (Isha) every morning. It helped me know things that I could blurt out throughout the day to seem informed. Funny thing is though, and I did not think about this until I met her for the first time, I literally knew nothing about Isha Sesay. Just her name, she was pretty and told me what I needed to know about the world in a couple of minutes every morning. I walked up to her in that hotel lobby and asked, “Are you Isha Sesay!?” to which she said, “Yes”.

After that, and I kid you not, I had absolutely nothing else to say to her because I knew nothing about her other than that she was on CNN. A brilliant kick-off to the most awkward 10 seconds of my life. Trust me, in awkward situations, time slows down like everything else is moving too fast for it. It would have been even longer but she was in a hurry to be somewhere. I quickly asked for a selfie and a recap of what she has been up to. “I honestly have not kept up with you since you disappeared from CNN. Sorry. What are you doing these days?”, I asked. To which she replied, “I am an author now and still a journalist. I may also be returning to the screen soon. Sorry, I gotta go. Lovely meeting you.” It’s OK to cringe for me. I am still cringing. That could have gone better. But it went how it went. In the selfie, we look like old friends who had talked for hours. I can honestly tell you, that is not the case. I invaded her physical space to be awkward for 10 seconds.

When I was younger, I would have made something up on the fly to get a conversation going. As young men do. But at 33, married and with a child (a daughter, no less) it very loudly hit me just how shallow I was when I was 20. To see a pretty girl on TV and be so struck by the pretty girl that I often missed all the other things that made her unique. Marrying a strong woman (yes, I’m sucking up) and being a father to a daughter has since run a system update on my schema. But I can see myself all around me sometimes. In the behavior of other young men. All I can think is, “Dear God, why do you allow us to make these choices ourselves!?” To which a quiet voice in the back of my mind says, “So that you can learn for yourself and not put my name on these things you are doing!”

Yes… That is also a young Larry Madowo

“You Have a Voice for Radio”… But Apparently Not the Personality…

My 10 seconds with Isha was not the first time in my life I have been caught in the “nothing to say” trap. Especially over things I “should be” uniquely qualified to talk about. I have a deep voice and a monotone. It is relaxing or annoying to listen to me, depending on the conversation. I have been in situations where I have been asked to stop lecturing when I wasn’t or everyone in the room goes quiet to hear me attempt to whisper something private. In high school, a teacher told me that I am so incapable of whispering that when I attempt it, the vibrations can be felt in the next classroom. The words cannot be made out but they know it’s me. When you have a deep voice and a monotone, everyone around you says the same thing to you over and over again, “You should be on radio!”

The first time I ever applied for a job in radio, I was (I think) 18. Fresh out of high school, a little witty and armed with this voice that had not broken as much as it had become a low pitch growl. I had the voice and the diction, but there I was in this radio station, psyched up by years of friends, relatives, and strangers telling me I belong in radio, being told by the interviewer, “You have a great voice, but you have nothing to talk about. You haven’t lived any life yet.” That will check all of your ego, my friends. All of it!

Being on the radio is more than just having a voice, you have to have experiences that people can relate to. You have to be able to hold an audience and make them feel as if it is them in the studio and you are somehow narrating their lives back to them. What the interviewer was saying is that I had not made many relatable choices. In fact, up until that point, most of my choices had been made for me. Except for my hairstyle. That one was always one thing that my military father, very begrudgingly, let me choose for myself. But even with that, I could not exactly host a show about hairstyles. Jon Snow all the way. I knew nothing. But I made a choice to put in that application to the radio station and through the process, learned something. That our choices matter. Not just the ones we make but also the ones at our disposal. Our choices are what connect us. We gravitate towards people who, we believe, have made or can make similar choices. This is where I will now launch into the more “woo-woo” side of my thinking around choices.

You Are Nobody and Nothing You Do Matters, Or Maybe Everything Does… Who Knows!?

Have you ever been about to enter or leave a space, then out of courtesy you decided to let someone go through the door first? A lady, a child, an old man or even just someone who you felt somehow needed that bit of courtesy. I am one of “these” people. My father was a soldier and a gentleman so he taught his sons to hold doors and smile. Particularly, for women, children and the elderly. To be honest, I don’t even think about it when I do it. It’s an instinct at this point. But I recently watched a movie called Mr. Nobody, released in 2009, which made me really pause to think about how a series of choices could have far-reaching consequences. Even beyond myself.

For instance, a man like me holds a door for a woman because he has been raised to believe that is the right thing to do. The lady walks through the door and as she does, she sees his smile and thinks, “What a nice man!” She is then in a slightly better mood and gives a barista a slightly better tip. The barista uses the little extra money to buy something nice for her son. Nothing major, a toy car. Her son loves the toy car so much that he begins a life long love affair with the model of the car. He grows up to become one of the leading specialists for vehicle design. That toy car sits on his desk. All this begins because someone was raised to believe you should always hold the door for a lady.

Alternatively, the lady could walk through the door, see the man’s smile and think, “What a creep!?” She is then in a foul mood wondering why men are so creepy. She accidentally trips a waiter because she was texting her friend that a creepy guy just held the door for her. The waiter drops scolding coffee in a lady’s lap and is publically and humiliatingly fired because this was his last strike. The lady with the coffee in her lap goes back home to change because she can’t go to work with a brown stain on her skirt. She misses the morning meeting at the office, in which the managing director is berating team members on being constantly absent at, or late to work. Lord knows what happens to her when she shows up late after being absent all morning.

In the movie, a shoelace salesman convinces a factory manager to buy defective shoelaces from him at a “really good price”. These shoelaces end up on a pair of shoes owned by the main character as he is running towards his mother, who is on a train door, arm stretched out, about to leave him forever if he cannot catch her hand. As he runs, the shoelace snaps and he falls missing his mother’s hand. His life with his father from that point is not an easy one. However, in an alternative path, he catches his mother’s hand and goes with her. His life with his mother from that point is not an easy one. The movie makes a case for the reality that even the most innocuous choices, which sometimes have nothing to do with us, can affect our trajectory. So every choice we make must be treated with a certain amount of consciousness. But should not be taken too seriously to the point of paralysis.

Why We Get Paralyzed by Choice.

Simply put, we are aware that choices have far-reaching consequences and we cannot tell what those consequences will be. We just know that something is going to happen and are constantly scared that that something will be bad. I am not a psychologist but I have been around long enough to know that we all feel that existential itch that lets us know that we are all connected by something. I believe that “something” is our choices. The right to select where we want to put our energy.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

You can only have ONE hat. But know that one of these hats may cause financial ruin and another may help bring about world peace by tomorrow at lunchtime. So choose wisely! But remember. It’s just a hat.   

Have you ever had a friend lament to you that they are a uniquely nice person and cannot understand why they cannot attract another nice person to be with romantically? Yet, you as their friend watch them photocopy the same relationship over and over again without fail? Choices! We all have to learn to act out of our own best interests after being programmed for decades to act in other people’s best interests. Sometimes that means choosing boring dependability over easily advertised excitement. Sometimes the opposite. Choosing excitement over stability. Or, if you are lucky enough, finding that middle ground of a mix between excitement and trust. But we have to learn to make these choices and we do so by observing and absorbing the choices of others to make our own in response. No attempt to rationalize or understand but to just accept that they made a choice and, as heartbreaking as it may be, that “choice” may not be us.

When I was in my 20’s I was honored (and I mean this) to date very many women who looked like Isha Sesay but did not have the consistency of substance (even by news update standards). A lot of them were volatile, absent, blatantly untrustworthy and extremely self-loathing. A lot of this had to do with them and had nothing to do with me. But I had convinced myself that I can “nice” them into changing because I was also volatile, absent, blatantly untrustworthy and extremely self-loathing. I was looking for consistency, trust, and stability in an exciting package. Much like they were. I was making a choice to be with a woman who looked like Isha Sesay more than a woman who would treat me like (I hope) Isha Sesay. It is not that all those other women who were kind, attractive and treated me with respect did not exist. I had over time repeated and reinforced a choice-pattern, based on optics, that made them almost invisible when placed against the ones that would allow me to be a victim. We may not like to admit it, but a lot of times consistent complaints about the same thing are a weird form of bragging about the choices one has available to them.

“People will make a choice which puts them on the path to being a victim while swearing they are not doing it.”

My wife; she likes to zing me with these from time to time because she is the one who broke the “nice guy” spell.

Friends, the movies lie. There are no grand speeches at the end of an hour of humiliation which help a person realize that they are loved and worthy of it. These people are making choices. If you can accept that, then seeing people as “victims” in need of your saving becomes a less potent emotion. You can proceed to see them as they are. Deeply flawed, plenty human and maybe, just maybe, not for you. In addition, you stop turning yourself into a constant “victim” when you realize that you have the ability to make a different choice. Then another one. Then another and so on. These choices suck at the moment but in the long-run, they are worth the patience. Movies and TV series would have you believe that a man or a woman can undergo years of abuse only to be woken up by a grand speech and gesture. As a deliverer and recipient of such speeches and gestures, I can tell you that if a person does not see their self-worth then your energy is extremely wasted. It is perfectly OK to choose to put that energy somewhere else. Be it, emotional, spiritual or financial energy. It is your energy.

There’s No Such Thing as an “Empath”… Not Really.

I identify as an “empath”. Someone capable of identifying and feeling what other people are feeling. Maybe it is true and the reason I am good at connecting with people. But the truth is, most of the time, I just tell people what I wish people would tell me and treat them how I wish I was treated. That is not empathy, that is projection. I had a friend who used to say, “You have a lot of love to give in a world where people need a lot of it but don’t have a lot to give back.” When I was younger, this made me feel important. I thought she was calling me a rare hero in a world that needs it. But as I got older I realized she was warning me about emotional depletion and how we often choose to do it to ourselves through other people.

Empaths claim to see things from other people’s points of view. “I can put myself in their shoes”, we say. The only problem is that if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are just you in another person’s shoes. We cannot know how people think. So we can never really know which thoughts and processes led them to make such choices. So, “empaths” are actually just (sorry to say) feel-good-narcissists. But when we take the narcissism out and see people and their struggle. To know what we can carry, what we want to carry and what we don’t. That is where true empathy lives. I can care about your plight but I may not be qualified to help you carry the load. Or even want to for that matter. That does not mean I do not feel empathy. It means I am human. But if I do have the ability to help you and I choose to, then that is a rare miracle.

Giving up a victim perspective and taking control of your own choices gives us an overview perspective of the real victims in our society. Those who choice has been taken away from. Those who need an Isha Sesay to remind the world that they still exist in a world where Donald Trump is the president of the United States of America and every week says something more “newsworthy”. Against them, our existential crisis over picking a hat is extremely trivial.

Choose to Care About “It”, Not All Of “It”, Just the “It” That Needs Your Care At The Moment  

If you have gotten to this point. I thank you for taking the time to jump down one of my rabbit holes. If I can end this series with anything it would be to remind myself to choose to care about it. Whether “it” is the emails I have to send today for work, a design I am doing for a friend, listening to my daughter narrate the complexities of playgroup or even drinking a Dawa at a Java in solitude, I can choose to care about “it”. The thing that needs my focus at the moment is what is essential. But if I care about something but do not know how to do anything with it, that’s also OK. Someone else might know what to do about it and maybe I can choose to support them on their mission somehow.

Do you think the chance encounter with Isha Sesay in that hotel lobby had any effect on her day? Maybe she walked towards her next meeting thinking, “What the fu** was that about!?” Then was a little off in her next encounter. Or maybe, in answering my question she reminded herself that she is a successful journalist and published author. She had a confidence boost in that a fan was there in Kigali and recognized her years after her resignation from mainstream news media. She stepped into her next encounter with confidence and killed it! Or maybe, most likely, she is an internationally known celebrity who did not think anything of this moment and went about her day unaffected.

On my end, I can tell you that I was affected by this chance encounter. Now that I am married, have a child and I have made some choices, I am going to impart some unrequested (but you are here so take it anyway) wisdom. Sometimes, without even knowing it, people can hold up a mirror to you that either makes you question who you are, or makes you proud to not be who you were. An old friend, an ex or even a former TV crush who has no idea who you are. A chance encounter can make you think, “Wow! It’s 2020! Literally, a little more than a decade has passed since I saw this person and I am still doing A,B,C,D?”

If you are going to choose Isha Sesay {replace with whoever or whatever you are thinking about right now}, please pay attention to what you are choosing. Is it in your best interests? Will it add value to the world? She may be pretty but is she someone who gives her voice to the voiceless? Is she someone determined and focused? Is she someone who can give up a whole career because she is tired of people focusing more on novelty than necessity? Is she someone with enough patience to take a selfie with a fan in a Kigali hotel lobby just because they are a fan with absolutely nothing to say?

Beyond Isha Sesay, who is a metaphor in this (mostly), are you making choices in your best interests? Or are you making choices because you are overwhelmed with choices and decide to pick the one that everyone else seems to pick? Be unique and pick someone or something uniquely you. The world will be a little more colorful for it. Even if the choice is as simple as whether or not to hold a door for someone, just do you, and trust that a little kindness or diligence (shoelaces) could cause a butterfly effect for the positive that you may not be aware of, but it can happen.

Oh, and if you see a celebrity in a hotel lobby. Don’t be afraid to ask for a selfie!

Final thoughts; Please take a moment to Google what Isha Sesay today. Just 20 minutes. It will change your life a little.

Other Interesting Things

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