Freedom of No Choice

KLEINBERG'S June 2, 2019

We finally met her new boyfriend—at Kleinberg’s, over several drinks of organic wines and IPAs, excellent pastrami sandwiches and yuca fries. Meeting our friends’ new significant others is exciting because we don’t choose them. It’s like omakase at Japanese restaurants.

Dating today is a different game from the one I played in my youth. Having so many ways to meet new people puts a lot of weight on the choices we make, and deceptively leads us into focusing on our essential differences. It becomes more about what we innately are than about what we do in a relationship. When the choice was limited, the relationship was about what we made of it. It’s like carving a sculpture out of a piece of stone; the stone we choose initially just has to have the shape that contains the possibilities we want.

But imagine an app that allows us to choose the stone from millions of different shapes. We would be tempted to find the perfect one, and we would begin to believe that the success of our sculptures ultimately depends on finding the right stone, not on what we do with it.

Not only that, having all these choices forces us to decide in advance what we want our final sculptures to be, so that we can choose the closest match that would require the least amount of carving. There would be no surprises, discoveries, learning, or transformations along the way.

The problem isn’t exactly the abundance of choice; it’s the psychological impact of it. It alters the way we perceive our own lives, particularly in the US where choice is equated with freedom. It’s thought of as an unquestionable virtue. But, when we make a choice, instead of allowing the choice to be made for us, we close ourselves off from the multitude of possibilities that life has to offer. This is the idea behind “omakase,” to allow possibilities beyond our limited imagination.

If we only allow deliberate choices in our lives, we would never learn how to integrate these unexpected possibilities. We become frogs in a well. To grow as a person, to discover what life has to offer, we want the stone to contain enough unexpected possibilities. The rest is up to us to make something of it.