The Moment of Choice

Recently I witnessed a domestic violence incident between a man and a woman. I was in my car, parked at the traffic lights on the way into the CBD, and it all happened just metres in front of me. I’ll spare you the details. For the purposes of this story, they’re not important. Let’s just say that it deeply shook me. I’m still shaking as I write this over 24 hours later.

As the events unfolded, my system went into overdrive. For a moment I didn’t know how to respond. All I could do was to honk my horn loudly to let the perpetrator know that I could see what was happening. Somehow, I found the courage to take a couple of photos that caught the license plate number of their car. I was paralysed with indecision as to whether to get out of my car and confront them. For whatever reason, I chose not to do that. Instead, I eventually drove on, and from a safe distance, I called the police. The rest of my morning was peppered with phone calls with the police, being asked questions, making statements and sending photographs.

During the course of the day, I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster. Partly wracked with guilt that I hadn’t directly stepped in. I was also incredibly sad for them both. What life circumstances could have conspired for them to end up in this situation?

There was also another emotion that kept bubbling to the surface. The best way I can describe it is ‘powerful’. Which is weird considering I didn’t feel like I was particularly powerful in the moment.

As I’ve reflected on that, I reckon the powerful feeling was because of what happened by me making the call to the police. During that first call, ten minutes after the incident, the person on the other end of the line went out of her way to tell me that I’d done the right thing. At the end of the call, she said that police were already on the case to find the car. In subsequent calls, they kept updating me on progress in the case. Things were happening because I’d made the call.

In short, my moment of choice led to a whole system moving into action to create a better outcome from a bad situation. I felt powerful because my choice felt like the right thing to do, and I was getting immediate feedback that it was.

It could have been all too easy for me to drive right past. To not make the call. To just get on with my day.

But I didn’t.

Can you recall a situation in your life where you’ve faced a moment of choice? Where you had two options: to react, or to respond? Where one choice feels like the instinctive thing to do, yet the other one feels like the more powerful thing to do?

When we react, we’re primarily driven by fear. When we respond, it’s a more deliberate, thoughtful action. In my leadership development work, I teach that effective leadership is not fear-driven, it’s purpose-driven. And to operate from a purpose-driven place, we first need to find ways to transcend our fears. How to do that? To paraphrase Viktor Frankl, it’s learning how to step into that place between stimulus and response, and choose.

In my case, that choice was to take the photos, drive away, and make the call.

Here’s the thing. When we make the more purposeful, powerful choice, we might not see the immediate effects of our actions. Indeed, as I drove away, part of me felt like I was copping out. Yet the more purposeful, powerful choice is more often than not the one that creates a more sustainable, lasting impact. 

And funnily enough, it’s usually the one when you play a small part in a wider system, rather than play the hero in the spotlight. 

Moments of choice. They’re there in front of us. Every. Single. Moment.

Make them count.

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