Is it really my choice?

In high school my principal would end the announcements every day with

“Today is a great day… or not. The choice is yours”

I understand that this is meant to be motivational, and encourage the listener to have a cheery optimism and choose to have a better day. This saying has gotten me through many tough times so I can also see it’s value.

The issue I take is that it’s not always my choice. There are so many external factors outside of decision. I am sure there are many reasons that I list that would remove my ability to choose a good day, but for brevity’s sake I will keep it at two.

The first and with the most external factors I can think of is severe poverty, potentially compounded by abuse and or minority status. If I as a privileged, well to do, white male were to go up to a high schooler that can barely or can not afford food, has to go home to an abusive family member, and is looked down upon because of the color of their skin and tell them that they are not allowed to have a bad day because they would be choosing to do so, I would not be seeing that student for who they are. As an educator our biggest goal is to see the person behind the desk. To understand how that person works. To enable that person to become more than they ever thought possible.

The second can be argued as an internal factor, but is students who are severely clinically depressed. When a student’s body literally can not choose to have a great day, no matter how much they want, it feels like salt being rubbed into a very open very painful wound. I am not saying to avoid all platitudes with this student. I am saying make sure this student has somebody they trust and are willing to talk to. One listening ear can go a long way to removing salt from a wound, and it is hard for a wound to heal with huge pieces of salt still sitting in it.

Again, this saying has gotten me through many a tough time, and I don’t think I ever spoke to that principal in person. So there is value in it having been said.

I’m not sure what the most helpful answer is here, in terms of how to share this information with the masses, but in an effort to not make things worse for those who already have a different life than the advice giver could ever imagine, I think it is worth keeping in mind that it is not possible to know the background of anybody that our words and actions may come into contact with.

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