A week ago, I was ordering presents for James’ birthday. Normally, I’m brilliant at birthdays – and particularly good at buying presents for James’. I often have so many ideas that I give some away to other people who don’t know what to get him. But this year, among other things, I’ve been getting ready for a trip to India, and so I completely spaced on the fact that James will be turning 29 while we’re away. Cut to me sat on my lunch break, desperately Googling words related to stuff James likes (“bears”, “Liverpool”, “eco”) and ordering whatever I could find in the space of half an hour.
By the end of my lunch break, I had actually come across some pretty good stuff, but still had space in the birthday budget for one more thing. I suddenly thought of something he’d said he wanted, tracked it down, ordered one – and then almost immediately remembered I’d given that present idea to someone else a few weeks earlier. A quick WhatsApp later and, yep, they’d already got one and wrapped it up ready to go.
“That’s fine,” I thought. “I’ve literally just ordered it, I bet I can just go in and cancel that order.” Nope. It had only been 10 minutes, but the order had already been processed. On any other day, I would have been thrilled about that level of speedy customer service, but now it meant I couldn’t go back and undo my mistake. I’d have to live with the consequences of my snap-decision; waiting for a delivery I didn’t want and taking time out of my busy life to return it.
This isn’t a world that makes it easy to change your mind. Everything is so immediate, so “buy it now”, laid out for you in an Instagram story that will disappear in a few hours unless you swipe up and grab it straight away. Whether it’s what we buy, how we spend our time, the politicians we elect, we’re so busy and so bombarded with information that we have to make quick decisions with little chance to go back on those choices.
But our choices are the outworking of who we are. They’re the actions we take based on our opinions and beliefs and values. And we have to make choices so quickly that we give very little thought to those bigger things. So often we’re called to offer our take on a subject before we’ve really had time to think it through. The world wants your opinion in a soundbite; but life is rarely that simple. There are multiple sides to most stories; pros and cons to weigh up; grey areas and nuances to navigate – and we often don’t give ourselves or each other the time and space to do that work.
Instead we give a gut reaction, and then proceed to argue it out until we become so deeply entrenched in that belief that we forget how quickly we formed it. And those gut reactions begin to shape even more of who we are. They feed into more and more decisions, with more and more consequences to our beliefs and lives. We gravitate towards people who share those opinions, and so we go unchallenged by others who might have a different view or a fresh perspective. And we get so distracted and influenced by what happens on our screens that we never stop to ask how we got here and if we need to reassess.
One of the best movies I’ve seen this year is Joker (if you haven’t seen it, here is a big ol’ spoiler alert for you – I’m about to talk major plot points). In the film, we see Arthur Fleck slowly become the infamous Batman villain, Joker, in a downward spiral of mental illness, abuse, and societal neglect. It’s an incredibly nuanced depiction of the complicated and interconnected ways in which monsters are not born, they’re made. The decisions each character makes contributes to the making of the Joker, showing that things aren’t as black and white, good and evil as we would like.
You spend the movie sympathising with Arthur as a human being while being horrified with him as a villain, thinking and re-thinking – that is, until a shockingly violent incident that happens when Arthur appears as Joker on a late night talk show. As soon as the incident happens, the camera pans out to reveal multiple TV screens – each with their own news story, or fast food advert, or mindless distracting content. According to Joker, we live in a world where Robert De Niro can get shot on live TV, and we have barely minutes to process how we feel or what it means before we become distracted by the next thing on our screens.
It’s hard to change something like that – to think more deeply about who we are, the decisions we make, how we treat others – when the world seems geared against it, but the first step is to notice.
Notice the times when you scroll through your phone, and can’t recall anything you’ve read five minutes later. Notice the times you’re in such a rush to get somewhere that you decide not to stop to chat to that person who’s homeless, or lonely, or going through something big and really needs to talk. Notice the times you’re arguing tooth-and-nail about Brexit, or the environment, or gender politics – any kind of politics really – and you get home and feel uneasy about some of the things you said or how you said them.
And then, think twice. Think again. Mull over. Consider doing the thing that no one ever seems to want to do: change your mind. That doesn’t mean you have to change your mind, but the world would be a better place if we were all open to doing so. Think twice about what you believe, and ask yourself where that belief came from, why you believe it so strongly and whether or not you’ve weighed up all the arguments. And when you’re putting those beliefs to others, think twice about the way in which you do that, considering where the other person is coming from and whether winning a debate is worth losing a relationship.
Think twice about making that purchase, reaching for that bottle of wine, flopping in front of the TV with a takeaway for the umpteenth time. Think twice about any of those unhealthy habits you get into to help you deal with the stress and busyness of life. The world may be geared towards that; towards making us divided and numb, and making us consume more than we need to deal with the pain of it all. We can’t control that, but we can control how we respond. We get to choose whether we live purposefully, or get swept up in the tide. All we need to do is notice. All we need to do is think. And then, to think again.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti