House on fire choices


There’s good news, and there’s bad news….

The good news is, we get to choose, no matter what. The bad news is, we have to choose, no matter what.  In a previous post I related the phenomenon of really clear choices being perceived as no choice. In most of those cases, it’s a no-brainer, but still a choice.

Now let’s consider one of my favorite scenarios: you’re trapped on the third floor of a burning building. I originally saw this as a choice between staying in the building and getting burned up or jumping, but told that to a fire fighter and he said, “Nah, they always jump when the flames get close enough.” (Thanks, Stan) So I had to rework my scenario:

You’re on the third floor of the burning building, and when the flames get close enough,  you will jump. But where do you hope to land? The point is, all of your choices are really bad. But you still have choices. Do you want to land on a fire hydrant, or just the sidewalk? Maybe it would be better to land on a parked car– the metal will crumple and absorb the shock.  Perhaps you can jump into a tree, catch a branch, and swing down to the ground.  If you pretend that doing nothing is possible, you’ll end up on the sidewalk or the fire hydrant. Sure, you can hope for the fire department to get there in time: in fact, being passive is still a choice. You can let things happen to you, wait for rescue and say you’re a victim, but if you saw it coming and did nothing to mitigate it, that’s still a choice. If the flames get to you before the fire department, you’d better have a plan B, no matter how feeble. The parked car beats the sidewalk.

This is absolutely not to be interpreted as blaming the victim. If you were assaulted or molested, it’s not your fault. If you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s not because of holding in negative energy (at least in any medical science I’ve ever read).  But it really is like being in the burning building– you didn’t light the fire, but you still have to choose where you try to land when  you jump. You can be a victim or a survivor– it’s up to you.

copyright James Matter 2013


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, choices, existentialism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to House on fire choices

  1. i very much like the point of view here

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