One Foot in Front of the Other

In the depths of her divorce, a friend once asked me how a libertarian would respond to a situation with no positive outcomes. It almost broke my heart to point out that liberty doesn’t promise you will always have a good option. It only promises you will have options in your life, and that the opportunity to choose between bad outcomes is better than having no choice at all.

Good policy is vital because it creates an environment in which everyone is free to make the choices that best fit their own circumstances. That’s what this column is all about — the way our personal lives benefit from aspiring to the ideals of freedom.

Unfortunately, people aren’t the ideal. We do our best, but we also lie and cheat and steal. We make promises we can’t or won’t keep. We make unfounded accusations. We treat each other badly. And when that happens to me, I sometimes find it very hard to forgive. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has questioned my principles in the face
of tragedy, or while nursing open wounds. A free and
open society relies on trust, and trust is eroded when people behave badly.

But it is precisely because people are flawed that we need to be able to make our own decisions. And advocating for the ability to choose is as important when times are bad as it is when times are good — in our personal as well as our political lives. It just doesn’t provide much comfort when we deal with a new pain.

While trying to move past a problem, I can recommend prayer and meditation, or contemplating elaborate revenge fantasies. I may take a long walk in the woods or try to work up a sweat. Sometimes I’ll go on a drive just to sing angry songs at the top of my lungs, or do some clumsy hammering on the piano to vent some feelings. But none of these tactics usually help with the problem at hand, since the solution is almost always perseverance.

In times of trouble, putting one uncertain foot in front of the other can be a form of torture rather than a comfort. But like physical therapy or breaking in a new pair of shoes, the pain pays off in the end. We aren’t meant to stand still.

Nothing, including the intensity of a new pain or sorrow, lasts forever. For me, that is a reminder to savor the good times and keep going in the bad. There are always new communities to find, new passions to nurture and old ones to rebuild against all odds. As my divorcing friend eventually learned, there is almost always a light at the end of the tunnel. So as soon as you start moving, in any direction, things tend to seem a little better.

No one else can make a better decision about my future than I can. As I force myself to keep walking, I’m consoled by knowing I can choose my path.