Ms. Zawistowska is going to die. It will be by suicide. While many will argue her boyfriend was responsible, her devastating past haunted her relentlessly. It’s a tragic story of stark contrasts and choices.
Most of us would agree that making difficult choices is emotionally taxing, and our general preference is not to make them. Research demonstrates that people have much stronger emotional reactions (including regret) to an outcome that follows from some action we took versus the same outcome resulting from inaction.
Blackjack gamblers were studied to see how much regret they felt when they lost. But the clever part of the study was as follows: some players were asked “Do you want to hit?” while others were asked “Do you want to stand?” And regardless of which question was posed, answering “yes” produced much greater regret than saying no if the outcome was a loss!
Of course, the same phenomenon is observed in stock trading: John owns stock in company ABC and is considering switching to company XYZ, but he decides against it. And he subsequently learns that had he switched, he would have made a fair amount of money. Meanwhile Paul had owned stock in company XYZ but switched his portfolio to company ABC. He achieves the same financial results as John – missing an opportunity to make a fair amount of money from XYZ. Which person feels more regret? Paul, by a huge margin – in fact, greater than ten to one.
Relatively speaking, those are easy choices to contemplate: hit or stand, trade this stock or that one. Sure, there may be some amount of agonizing if the dollar amounts are considerable.
The beautiful Ms. Zawistowska lived her tumultuous, short life amidst seismic polarities and substantial choices. As a Polish-Catholic survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, she fell in love with a Jewish American man. While Zawistowska’s father was a violent anti-Semite, both her father and her husband were shot in the concentration camps. Zawistowska was sentenced to the concentration camp for smuggling a piece of ham to her dying mother.
But of all her choices, none was more devastatingly heart wrenching than this. The night she arrived in Auschwitz, Sophie Zawistowska disembarked with her two young children – a son and daughter. A sadistic guard forced her to choose which of her two children would be immediately sent to the gas chamber and which would be allowed to live, albeit in the camp. Sophie agonizingly chose to sacrifice her daughter, rationalizing that her son might stand a better chance of surviving in the camp. Sophie’s choice haunted her the rest of her life, and ultimately led her to suicide.
Sophie’s Choice is perhaps one of the most tragic novels in American literature and one of author William Styron’s most controversial. Imagine having to make such a catastrophic choice as did Sophie. Envision the emotional torture. Is choice even an appropriate word for such a circumstance?
Where one choice is as [devastating] as the other, the decision must be one of despair. (T-16.IV.5)
Yet what we learn in A Course in Miracles is that when we are joined with the wrong-minded thought system of the ego, all our choices are decisions for despair. All outcomes of the ego are devastating, because the ego projects the illusion of choice into a seeming reality based on fear and guilt.
In stark contrast stands the right-minded thought system of the Holy Spirit – that still, small voice that speaks for Heaven and rises above the senseless noise of sounds that have no meaning.
There is no conflict in the choice between truth and illusion. Nothing in this world can give [you] peace, for nothing in this world is wholly shared. There is a choice that you have power to make when you have seen the real alternatives. (T-16.IV.5;9; T-13.XI.4; T-31.IV.8)
When we learn to make this right-minded choice, we not only experience a world that makes us indescribably happy, but we see the spectacular contrast to the previous choices we thought would bring us joy. And this is the last contrast we ever need perceive.