I was recently struck by what someone said about people making choices. Like, if they’re in a bad place because of a choice they made, they deserve less compassion, less help.

Let’s consider that in the context of homelessness, addiction, and prostitution.

Photo source: Pixabay.com

How does homelessness happen? Is the guy on the street with the ‘Anything Helps’ sign there because he made a choice? What if he was raised in a home with absent or abusive parents, never managed to make friends because he was shy and full of shame, and ran away before he had any life skills to cobble together towards a ‘decent’ living?

Did he make a choice? Yup. He ran away. But did he choose the context that came before? No. So, rather than look at his running away as the relevant moment of choice, maybe we could look back further, to being born into a family not able to provide a safe launching pad for their son.

Photo source: Pixabay.com

How about addiction? Did that woman choose to be an addict? Did she look at her healthy young reflection in the mirror one day, “Hmm. I think instead I’d like to have lesions all over my body, rotting teeth, and be so skinny that it’s a wonder I can walk. And for a kicker, I’d like to feel like bugs are crawling all over my body and the only cure is another hit.” What lead her to want to get away from it all through a drug? Did she have the facts and were the circumstances right to help her make a healthy choice?

Photo source: Pixabay.com

And the prostitute? Some youth are captured by pimps and trafficked against their will. Are others there by choice? Did that teen boy on the corner decide that instead of aiming for college, selling his body was the way to go? Might there be some circumstances leading up to that choice? What if he was raped repeatedly by a trusted adult, then kicked out of his foster home because he told a ‘nasty lie’? With no place to go and no food, a logical choice may be to make money with a body that now feels dirty and worthless anyway. Did he really make a choice?

“Lots of people grow up in difficult situations. They don’t all end up …[fill-in the blank].” The concept of choice means that there is some freedom to choose, some ability to tell what the choices are, and the power or stamina to make a choice and carry through with it. If someone is short on one or all of those, are they really making a choice?

When we make judgements about the life choices of another human being, maybe we could ponder the fact that we don’t have all – or even a smattering – of the relevant facts to do so.

So, why bother judging based on what we think is someone’s choice? Do we really know that person had what it takes to make a real choice?

Maybe we need to know more for our basis compassion and help. Or maybe we could just assume someone isn’t in a terrible place out of real choice.