Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Options and Choices

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
--If today was your last day, Nickelback

We went through a period a few years back where we put four pets to sleep (two dogs and two cats) in 14 months. Leaving aside some of the obvious existential issues, what has stuck with us is the manner in which our vet discussed each pet with us. He would lay out the facts of the pet's ailment, pause briefly, then say "OK. Options and choices." In each case, the "options and choices" were basically: 1) spend a small fortune for (at best) a few extra weeks or months of life, or 2) put the pet to sleep.

We opted for the latter in each instance, but that is not the point. Rather, we want to discuss how this concept of options and choices can impact the way we live on a day-to-day basis. Put simply, it is far different to choose to live each day than to continue living through inertia. (As we have noted in the past, we consider suicide to be a viable and perfectly valid option for one to consider.)

Think of it this way. Do you begin each day (as Will Smith opined in the otherwise-forgettable movie Hitch) "as if it were on purpose"? When you are stressed out about a deadline, or worried about a relationship, does it occur you that none of it would matter if you were dead? (We are not advocating suicide as a relief for one's stresses, mind you, but instead using such a "negative visualization" as a means to illustrate the inherent absurdity of all our worries and stresses.)

You. Could. Be. Dead.

Not only that, but you are free to end your life at any time. To us, thinking of life this way has a clarifying (and bracing) effect. We are choosing to live. Not only that, but we acknowledge that everything we do involves choice. We are choosing to write this blog post instead of innumerable other options available to us at this moment. Even when we do things that seem mandatory (go to work, care for our family), we recognize that there are other options available. The fact that such options may seem unpalatable (getting fired, for example) does not render them moot.

Basically, this boils down to the way perceptions can alter one's state of being. To view life as a choice puts one in control, while to cling desperately to life through biological inertia...does not.

Interestingly, such a conclusion flies in the face of the most common complaint against the absurd - that it is a depressing outlook on life. Indeed, we have found that to contemplate suicide on occasion is a wonderful tonic for easing life's ills - the fact that we had a hard day at work, or our wife is upset with us, seems laughably irrelevant when put side by side with our ceasing to exist.

Also, such an outlook is an essential element to living without fear, which gets at the recent debate in the comments about whether the absurd is consistent with living an "accomplished" life. To us, this is a fairly simple issue: the absurd man recognizes the futility of all endeavors, but may certainly choose to play the role of a high achiever. Indeed, the recognition that all is futile, and the liberation it entails, frees the absurd man to pursue pretty much anything.

After all, what's the worst that could happen?


  1. Greetings Rick,

    Nice point. Thoughts of suicide are often a great catalyst for making life changes. After all, one can always kill one's self, so why not experiment with life first? There's really nothing to lose.

    (Also, considering the high quality of some of your other artistic references, I'm surprised to see a Nickelback quote at the head of this post. I might be playing the role of an elite, but I'd argue that no amount of absurdity will make that band any good.)


  2. Yes, engaging in "negative visualization" is certainly endorsed by the Stoics among us.

    Stoically yours (!)--


  3. Odd to see the euphemism "put to sleep" used on this blog:)