More on decisions and defensiveness

I recently wrote about how having my decisions questioned makes me feel uncomfortable and defensive. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here. The guy who says “Why didn’t you get an earlier train?”  is not a guy who makes you feel more relaxed or more secure.

It works this way at society level too. If you’re part of a minority group, making “alternative” lifestyle choices, you will get people questioning your choice. That might be using a bike as your main form of transport, choosing not to have kids, choosing not to drink alcohol, living in a squat, whatever. And having to explain your choices takes a toll on your cognitive resources. Obviously, if it happens a lot, you develop standard responses. But it still takes some thought, some energy. And you feel slightly defensive. If it happens several times in one day, it starts to drain your tank of mental resources.

Yes, there are exceptions. Some people love their “alternative” lifestyles enough to treat each person questioning their choices as a chance to evangelise. Example: not all, but some, Jehovah’s Witnesses. Another example: not all, but some, polyamorous people. They can do this without draining the tank because they’re not re-examining their decisions in response to the question. Most of the time, they’re not even really listening to the question. They’re just trotting out a set-piece they’ve used many times before, perhaps doing a little bit of keyword-matching to make it sound like a considered response. In other words, they’re making no decisions, they’re just doing something they’re practised at. Which is easy.

Coming up with a sensible answer to “But would you eat a chicken if you were on a desert island?” or “Maybe you just haven’t met the right girl yet!”, involves engaging and thinking and briefly re-examining your choices. It can be infuriating because the people who ask these questions usually haven’t given any of the issues more than a moment’s thought, but they still want you to justify your values in the light of whatever witless thing they’ve said.

This is the toll that society forces minorities to pay. This is why, if two people are faced with the same choice and choose differently, they do not have the same level of privilege. The choice that results in having your decisions repeatedly questioned by others is a more difficult, less privileged route to take, even if it’s more worthwhile. Yes, the person who took the more difficult route took it by choice, and could always switch to an easier route. That’s part of what makes it the more difficult route.

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