In this week’s Ted Talk, Ruth Chang discusses hard choices. Soon after finishing Harvard Law School, Dr. Chang regretted her decision and switched paths. She received her doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University, and is now a professor at Rutgers focused on choice, freedom, value and action.
For Dr. Chang, “understanding hard choices uncovers a hidden power each of us possesses.” It would seem that the full use of that power is vital when dealing with divorce.
In any easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other alternative is better in other ways, and neither is better than the other overall.
“We also shouldn’t think that hard choices are hard because we are stupid.” Choosing after college between law school and philosophy, Dr. Chang remembers thinking:
If only I knew what my life in each career would be like. If only God or Netflix would send me a DVD of my two possible future careers, I’d be set. I’d compare them side by side, I’d see that one was better, and the choice would be easy.
At the time, Dr. Chang “did what many of us do in hard choices: I took the safest option.” But she learned being a lawyer was not who she was. It’s a mistake to think that in hard choices, one alternative really is better than the other, but we’re too stupid to know which, and since we don’t know which, we might as well take the least risky option.” Even with full information, a choice can still be hard.
For Dr. Chang, making hard choices may best be solved by our “normative powers,” our “power to create reasons.” You create the reasons to pursue your choices.
We get to exercise our normative power, the power to create reasons for yourself, to make yourself into the kind of person for whom [your decision is the right choice].
Making the hard choice is not dictated by reasons given to us. “Rather, it’s supported by reasons created by us. . . . You might say that we become the authors of our own lives.”
In almost all instances, making the decision to end a marriage is a hard choice. But then making the decision what to do when your spouse tells you, “I want a divorce” is a hard choice as well. You are not handed the DVDs of your alternative lives if you stay married or get divorced; of the alternatives of seeking to win the spouse back, or get revenge, or move on.
It would seem that the examples discussed by Dr. Chang are “easy” when recognizing that unlike her career choices, those decisions, for the most part, only impacted her. The choices in divorce immediately impact other people: the other spouse, the children. You not only make the hard choices for yourself, whatever you decide are decisions for them.
That doesn’t mean you don’t get to make hard family choices. You do, and probably everyday.
For Dr. Chang, the lesson is that “what we do in hard choices is very much up to each of us.” If you fail to exercise your “normative powers,” you are a “drifter.”
Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment — pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option — to determine what they do. So the lesson of hard choices reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.
For Dr. Chang, “we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.”
For married persons, especially those with children, the hard choice of whether to get divorced is not the right question. Making the choice to get divorced is not enough. Rather, you must decide “who am I going to be as a divorced parent,” or “How am I going to move on?” The DVDs showing your alternative futures will not be handed to you, but you do get to create your DVD and then begin to live into it.
Divorcing spouses cannot let their divorce happen to them. They must not drift through the process of divorce, letting judges and lawyers decide their future.
With a divorce, the decision to end the marriage and when and how to tell the spouse and family are hard choices. Just making those hard choices helps empower anyone going through a divorce. But to deal with the emotional, financial and legal issues in divorce, one still needs guidance in evaluating the hard choice options. It is there that the forum chosen in which to resolve these issues becomes important.
It is here that the value of the Collaborative Divorce Process is most clear. With a Collaborative Divorce, you are aided by a team of legal, mental health, and financial professionals who are committed to a settlement. The spouses commit to respectful, constructive good-faith negotiations with full and early disclosure of all relevant information until an agreement is reached that to the maximum possible degree meets the interests of both spouses and any children.
It’s never too early, or too late. The decision not to be a “drifter” can be made anytime. We can begin to design and create our best alternative at any time, regardless of the decisions of the past. Without doubt, our past choices have had consequences. However, making the hard choice where you go from here is always the better path.
For additional information on Collaborative Divorce please go to Collaborative Divorce Resolutions, the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals, or the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.