Free Choice: A Myth?

‘Free” choice is a myth. Every choice we make has a cost associated with it. At the very least, that cost is what we’ve foregone in the choice we’ve made. At the other end of the spectrum, the cost of choice is responsibility.


With every choice there is a tradeoff. Physicists learned long ago that they cannot measure both the velocity and the location of a particle simultaneously. To measure one they must forego measuring the other.

No one has an unlimited budget. Each spending decision requires us to forego something we want for something we want more. Statistics on household wealth show that too many of us forego future financial security for what we desire today.

Business owners and career-minded people are continuously having to weigh work-related activities against their family’s desire for their involvement.


Society demands us to be responsible for our actions. It demands that we be responsible for acting in ways that support society’s goal of an encouraging, supportive environment in which the masses thrive in good times and help one another weather challenging times. The choice to adhere to societal demands brings the reward of society’s support. Choosing to defy these demands results in some form of punitive actions.

Mask or no masks

This question of free choice is evident today in the dispute about people’s right to either wear or not wear a mask. There is no question, in my mind, that each of us has the right to make that choice for ourselves.

But we don’t have the right to make that decision for society. Those who choose not to wear a mask should also be choosing to separate themselves from members of the community who choose to wear masks. Yes, even if that means distancing themselves from their families.

If the entire family chooses not to wear masks, that’s fine. The family has assumed the risk and are entitled to associate with other like-minded people who choose not to wear masks. They do not, however, have the right to associate with people who choose to wear masks and social distance.

If non-wearers want the right to their choice, they must respect the rights of those who choose to wear masks. We can’t have it both ways; we cannot ask others to respect our rights if we’re unwilling to respect their rights.

For you

Regardless of which side of the mask or no mask position you’re on, respect others’ rights to their choices. Show your respect by honoring their wishes.

If the person prefers not to wear a mask, let them know that you respect their choice. Ask that they respect yours by not associating with you as long as they continue their practice. If the person wears a mask and you don’t, honor their choice by keeping a significant distance from them when in public venues like stores and pharmacies where essential services are provided.

For our kids

Teach your kids that all choices have costs. Some of these costs are merely tradeoffs of their choosing. Others require them to evaluate and honor their choice’s impact on others. Learning to honor others’ rights to their choices while expecting others to honor theirs assures a more tolerant world in which they can live peacefully and joyfully.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your wisdom in a comment below.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, Once again you tackle ‘thorny’ issues that your readers are facing. Know that we appreciate your mask/no mask perspective !

    • Dale C Furtwengler

      Bill, many of the decisions that each of us makes are made subconsciously, not consciously. That means that many are based on emotion rather than consideration. My goal with this post was to make the mask/no mask decision a more conscious decision and less an emotional choice. My sense is that the vast majority of people weighing in on this issue are operating on emotion. I’m glad that you found this post helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

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