19 January 2011

Freedom of choice

Choice is a peculiar concept.

There was an interesting study done on how people choose. It showed that when the number of choices available increases, more reluctant you become in evaluating and making a choice that meets your needs .

To elaborate, let me present you with an example.
Assume there are two types of coffee available . One with better taste and the other cheaper in price. Depending on the aspect you value (taste or the cost efficiency) you would choose one .

Then they complicated the situation. The number of available choices were increased to 16 . With various combinations of taste & price .
You would expect some people who valued taste to go for best tasting variety , while the cost conscious people to pick the cheaper varieties . Also you would expect some others to adventure in to new mixes that give more value for money ( so that they meet their point of balance in taste and the amount they are willing to part with) .

But actually many stuck to their first choice. And the reason was that by increasing the number of choices available, it was making the people more indecisive and forcing them not to go through the whole process of making a choice.

However this is not a post analyzing choice psychology , but just sharing two stories.
Two stories about the cost , the freedom & the availability of choices .

My friend who spent his childhood in a town famous for floods in Sri Lanka, related this first story about his father and the people who lived by the river bank.

Menik Ganga (River of Gems ) was a part of their lives , she flowed over the river bed hiding many a valuable gems that they mined for a living. That was their addiction, gamble with life and the only ticket with visible results of prosperity . Living by her was inevitable in that sense.

Then once a year or so she swelled with rain and flooded in to the low lands. Water levels rose to the roof levels of the houses, forcing them to tie their furniture to the door frames (lest they will float away) , collect whatever you can and run to the temple for safety . For a few weeks that’s where they stayed, Men, women, old folk , Children and the family pets. After few days Menik Ganga’s fury settles and she goes back to her usual charming self . The village return to rebuild their lives . That was the cycle.

My friend tells me about his father , who had a special pair of shorts that he wore during floods while they engaged in rescue operations (in row boats). How the men collected food and every house cooked meals to be distributed to the stranded. This was a voluntary operation and in their minds it was their duty. The choice for them was to take action or ignore the problem. And risk the system to break and risk when they were at the receiving end to be left to fend for themselves. So every time this gentleman put on his “flood shorts “ , he made a choice . The choice of doing some thing….

Second story comes from Toronto . The narrator and hero of the tale is Mr Raj from Canada. Who arrived as an immigrant , and got permanent residency . His son having completed his university degree is now working at an investment bank . He talks , eats, drinks , thinks and acts like any other Canadian , despite his brown skin ( Mr Raj’s words) . Now the background done on with the story

It is early seventies and the scene is a welcome party for new immigrants to the town.
Mr & Mrs Raj from South India have just arrived on this land of opportunity and good living .

There is a feast to welcome them . So much food . And so many types .
There is Pizza , There is Chicken , stake , chips , many many types of dips , and pies . (Oh my the variety pies ). He has not seen such a spread .

The friendly faced pastor is guiding them through the dishes and insisting them to try everything. “ Choose this , it is very nice “ he says . And Mr & Mrs Raj serve themselves another pie.

“Choose whatever you like “ Mrs Smith in the printed dress tells them . “Ok Thank you “ repeats his response

“ How can people be so nice “ the 22 year old Mrs Raj, whispers in his ear. He smiles , very satisfied with his decision to come here .

It is all about choices , he remembers his father telling him .

Pastor asks him whether there’s anything else they would like. And when he thanks him for this lovely gesture.

He responds “ It is the congregation of this church you need to thank , They have welcomed you in to this church. All they expect is that you become a part of this family and accept their lord “

Mr Raj faintly hears the kovil bells ringing in his ear.

“But of course, it is your choice”

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