Monday, January 11, 2010

QBQ! Chapter Two: Making Better Choices

Man, I gotta get a move on with these things.

In Chapter Two, we get more into the real style of the book as a whole. The chapter sprawls luxuriantly over pages 14, 15, and 16, with half of page 14 taken up by the chapter heading, and only five lines of text on page 16. And I don't think I've mentioned, but the font in this book is massive, the lines are double spaced, and the margins are ludicrous. The book as a whole reminds me of high school, where fiddling with all those elements to meet the page length requirement was the norm.

Even all of that tiny amount of text is nothing more than filler, because the entire contents of the chapter are contained within its title. Miller sets up a metaphor regarding "goat heads," a type of thorn he tells us one finds in Denver, which "can really ruin your day" by getting lodged in your shoes or tires. What's odd is that this isn't really a metaphor for anything, or at least not for anything meaningful.
Each day, as we journey into the unexplored wilds of our personal and professional lives, we have countless choices to make. And what are we choosing? Not our next action but our next thought. Choose the wrong thought and we're off in the emotional goat heads of blame, complaining, and procrastination. But the right thoughts lead us to a richer, more fulfilling life and the feelings of pride and accomplishment that come from making productive decisions.
So, OK, making the wrong choices is...thorns. Remember, though, that he's not talking about what actions we choose to take, but what thoughts we choose to think. This is significant.
Sometimes people think they have no choice. They'll say things like "I have to" or "I can't." But we always have a choice. Always. Even deciding not to choose is making a choice.
See, it's significant that he's talking about thoughts and not actions because we don't have choices regarding our actions. If I choose to go to work tomorrow, I'll have about $60 or $70 that I need and won't get otherwise. If I choose not to, I won't have that money, and I risk losing my job entirely. That is not a choice. Once in work, I can choose to do what my bosses tell me to do, in which case I will maintain my employment, or I can choose not to, in which case I will lose it. That is not a choice. John G. Miller is telling me, though, that I can choose how to feel about this constriction of options--I can either oppose it, maintain my personhood, and work in my life to change the circumstances that keep me and those like me--and those worse off than me--enslaved to these optionless lives, or I can give in to it, and decide to feel that my life is "richer (and) more fulfilling" by so doing.

This is analogous to the "freedom of choice" that advocates of capitalism and free markets offer us. We can make any choice we want--as long as what we're choosing between is products that other people have decided to offer us for sale. And not just that, but products we can afford. This is not a choice.
Want to avoid the goat heads and make great things happen?

Make better choices.
(Emphasis Miller's.) In other words, if I am unsatisfied with the life offered me, it is my fault, and my only option is to accept it as is. This is not a choice.

QBQ! Table of Contents


John G. Miller said...

Ethan, you make me laugh. Thanks for bringing humor into my life! And the mustache is gone! Yep, 30 years I had it. This husband of 30 years and dad to seven kids (3 adopted) and Denver resident says hello to you as the Non-Mustachiod Hero! Blessings! John G. Miller,,

Unknown said...

It's kind of eerie (yet not particularly surprising) that the message of this book almost exactly parallels the "joyful submission" counseled on evangelical Christian wives.

Ethan said...

Rachel--that sounds like an interesting parallel; unfortunately I don't know much of anything about that. I would love to know more, but now I'm torn between asking you to expand on it, or asking our new friend Mr. Miller, who is surely an expert with his seven children (3 adopted*) and, I'm assuming, joyfully submissive wife.

*He doesn't love them as much.


Mr. Miller--I was wondering if you were going to drop by, and if so, when. This is a bit sooner than I had projected. First of all, I recommend re-growing the mustache. Rich white assholes are far more charming with than without. Second of all, I expected that you would react to my posts with amusement, but I am curious--what is the source of this amusement? I can see three possibilities:

One, you are amused because you are not self-aware. In this case, you think that your QBQ is genuinely great lifestyle advice and I am just another poor unhappy soul who will never find the enlightened contentment that asking the question behind the question can bring.

Two, you are amused because you are completely self-aware. In this case, you know that you're peddling horseshit, and you know that I know it, but you also know that it can't possibly matter because you have power (money, the endorsement of the bosses, etc.) and I don't.

Three, you are not actually amused at all--rather, you are very angry--but it would go against your branding to show any other reaction.

(I briefly considered and immediately rejected a fourth possibility, which was that you were entirely unmoved by my writing. Since you were under no obligation to leave any comment at all but did anyway, I feel that this possibility can safely be discounted.)

So, Mr. John G. Miller, mustache or no, if you come swinging on by again--which is it?

Unknown said...

Actually I think he's just practicing what he preaches. Someone revealed how pitiful his Stockholm Syndrome type counseling is, so he's choosing to think he's amused instead. Way to avoid those goat heads, John.

Ethan said...

I'm glad you said Stockholm Syndrome. I tend to think that it's the most useful lens through which to look at pretty much any situation in our society.