We all have a choice
''In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good," is text taken from the Act of Contrition. It is unlikely these words headlined many speeches during the graduation season. However, these words are most fitting for a graduation ceremony or any conversation about what lay ahead. God gave us free will and how we use our gifts and talents is a choice. We can choose to do good; we can choose to do evil; we can choose to do nothing. The point is that we all have a choice. The question is what choice will we make?
It is easy to make the choice to blame others for our actions, cede independent thought and absolve ourselves from a sense of responsibility. This sort of conformity, at times, is even considered pious or patriotic and can be most appropriate. However, piety and patriotism or any action taken without thought can become dangerous and a form of control. God gave us free will and the ability to think; it is our job to learn how to ask questions and follow the best of the Catholic intellectual tradition with an openness to both faith and reason.
We are naturally social beings, seeking to belong and feel part of something. Too often, this can result in binary conditions where you are either in or you are out. Choosing to keep someone out is a choice, and it can be reinforced by a sense of righteousness and superiority. The line between what is right and what is wrong is not always clear. This is why independent thought is so important.
Not making a choice and just going along is a choice; it is the choice of apathy. We must guard against letting this happen, choosing the path of least resistance or whatever sounds best. Instead, we must challenge ourselves to make choices, to ask questions to really seek to understand. In a world of soundbites and oversimplification of ideas, independent thought is critically important to the future of our society. We must be ready to ask the question "why?" Sometimes where this takes us may be discomforting.
During my college orientation, a philosophy professor used the example of the lemming to describe the risk of falling into an unthinking, choiceless pattern. Lemmings migrate in large herds, no independent thought, even as they hurl themselves from cliffs into the arctic ocean. Once seen as mass suicide, the lemming can swim, but many do drown or die in the fall. However, they all go over the edge. We were challenged not to be lemming. We were challenged to think on our own, to question and to make choices.
The idea of choice is critical. Every graduating senior and all of us should be reminded that we make a choice every day to be inclusive or to exclude, to love or to marginalize, to work hard or slack off. Some choices are bigger than others, but all are choices.
It is easy to believe that things happen to you, and that things are out of our control, but we always have choices to make. We can decide how we will treat others; we can decide to be critical thinkers. We can decide to accept God's love and understand that in our questions we will find truth. It is in the search for truth that we find God.
- Michael B. Reardon is executive director of the Catholic Schools Foundation, www.CSFBoston.org.