When People Make Choices for You

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
– John C. Maxwell

Go to the Back!

It had been a long morning of learning and conversations and classes at the conference center. But now it was time for lunch.

We walked into the ballroom. On the left side of the room was a long line of tables piled with boxed lunches. Each table offered the same three options: turkey sandwich, a vegetable wrap, or a sub sandwich. We were told to pick up a box, then find any other table in the ballroom to sit and eat.

With one caveat.

The catering woman in charge of herding us through the line told us, “Don’t pick up a box from the first few tables.” She wanted everyone to start at the back table.

And she was having a hard time making that happen.

Yet she tried. As we entered the room, she yelled, “Go to the back of the room to get your box! Go to the back of the room!”

Of those who heard her, we did what she said. The food was all the same, and what’s a few more steps?

But one woman in front of me missed hearing the direction. I saw her pick up a boxed turkey sandwich from the first table.

And the catering woman became furious. She yelled at the woman with the box,

Put that back! Put that back! Don’t take that! Go to the back of the room to get your box!”

I was in shock as I watched and listened. You don’t usually hear people yelling like this at friendly volunteers in a food line at a nice conference.

It lit something inside me. How did I want to respond?

First, I wanted to give the poor woman in front of me a hug as she was getting yelled at. But second, I wanted to grab a boxed lunch from the first table myself.

Pidgeon’s Lack of Choice

Something inside us doesn’t like to be bossed around. We want to make our own decisions when possible. We don’t like arbitrary rules that artificially take away our possibilities.

We have an innate human desire for choice and autonomy.

Maybe that’s one reason that the memoir Nobody Needs to Know struck a chord with me. It’s a newly published book by Pidgeon Pagonis. In it, Pidgeon tells how their life’s trajectory was changed when doctors made body-altering choices for them when they were young.

Nobody Needs to Know

When Pidgeon was born, they had genitalia that was neither clearly all-male nor all-female. So the doctors chose female as the assigned gender. Over time, they performed a series of cosmetic surgeries on Pidgeon, unbeknownst to them.

As Pidgeon aged, they were given female hormones yet told they would never have a period or be able to bear children because of a previous childhood cancer. But it wasn’t true; Pidgeon had not had childhood cancer. Pidgeon had been born intersex.

Pidgeon’s book is the story of how the story unraveled, bit by bit, truth by truth, as they began to understand the implications of the choices that had been made for them, without their consent.

Pidgeon now works to encourage doctors to hold off on cosmetic surgeries for intersex babies, allowing everyone time to adjust to their bodies and make informed decisions for themselves as they get older instead of having those decisions made for them when they’re too young to understand.

In reading Pidgeon’s story, I’m like the older white gentleman Pidgeon writes about in the book:

“An older white gentleman who looked like he was someone’s father, asked if he could shake my hand. ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story,’ he said. ‘I never knew about what intersex people endured before today. You opened my eyes.'”

Pidgeon opened my eyes, too.

Recognize Whose Choice It Is

Back at the ballroom-turned-cafeteria that day at lunch, while I wanted to rebel and pick up a box from the first table, I resisted. I did as I was told; I walked to the back of the room to get my meal. I didn’t want to break the rules or make anybody’s job any harder that day for absolutely no reason.

I still got to choose between the three options for lunch, after all. It was a very, very minor thing.

But not all decisions are that minor. And not everyone is given a choice.

One lesson I learned from Pidgeon’s story in Nobody Has to Know is this:

When possible and appropriate, allow people to make their own choices.

Let them have autonomy in their lives, just as I want autonomy in my life.

Granted, when we humans are allowed to make our own choices, we may occasionally make some bad ones. But even then, we’re more likely to learn and grow from those bad choices than if we had been enslaved to have no choice at all.

Recognize what choices are yours to make, and what choices are others to make.

Let’s not mix up the two.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

My thanks to NetGalley for the
review copy of Nobody Has to Know

7 thoughts on “When People Make Choices for You

  1. Lynn

    Your line-up story made me chuckle a bit. I would have wanted to go to the front table, too! Instead of yelling, the event coordinator could have put a sign up, even lines on the floor, and tables placed where people filed to the “back” table first when they entered the room! I don’t like being told what to do, either. Sometimes though, people just want to help, and then I must graciously accept their help as that, instead of feeling like they are being bossy. 🙂 Overall, giving people space to be who God made them to be is of utmost of importance. When we make the decisions for others, we may be causing a road-block for them to shine their light. Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  2. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Choice is important. God chooses us, but He often gives us choices. I suddenly thought of slavery, and how slave owners chose for the slaves. They had absolutely NO choice! So choosing for others can often have horrible ramifications, and some, not so much. But being screamed at is NOT the right choice–ever!

    Tx for sharing yet again another thought-provoking post!

  3. Paula

    I recently watched a documentary about intersex babies and what the children and parents went through back in the day. lies, surgeries, scare, and some doctors telling parents not to even tell their children later in life. The documentary followed 8 adults who found out later in life. Mostly after puberty hit. It really saddened me about the medical practices of the past.
    When you were telling the story about the woman getting yelled at my first thought was I’d want to go an stick up for her and confront the lady doing the yelling.
    visiting today from Crazy Little Love Birds 12 #15

  4. Joanne

    So glad to know it’s not just me that often wants to do the opposite of what I’m told! Now if I’m asked nicely I’ll happily agree and help and follow along but start bossing me around and I want to rebel.

    I can not believe that doctors flat out lied and encouraged parents to lie to their children too… that is awful. I do know that many parents struggle with the right thing to do now that we know more about gender identity and its role in our lives (I honestly think going back even to when I was younger we just didn’t know any better and assumed it really didn’t matter which gender we assigned at birth). But through many of my college classes we talked about the difficulty those children would have (will?) face growing up as intersex children when gender plays a huge role in our society starting at such a very young age.

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