“All I have are the choices that I make, and I choose her . . . come what may!”
– David Norris (Matt Damon) in the Adjustment Bureau (2011)
After traveling 65-miles along an unpaved African trail, a missionary arrives just in time to participate in an ancient ritual. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he returns to his jeep only to discover a flat tire. Frustrated, he manages to drive to the only repair shop in the village. “Do you fix flats?” he frantically asks. “Sure do,” responds the elderly attendant. “How much do you charge?” the man inquires. Without looking up from his methodical woodcarving the attendant languidly replies, “What difference does it make?”
The preceding anecdote colorfully illustrates what is often referred to as Hobson’s Choice – a choice, but one for which only a single selection is available. Consequently, the only option is to accept or refuse the initial offer. Hobson’s Choice is misunderstood when used to describe a false illusion that may exist between two undesirable options. A scenario between two competing possibilities of nearly equal value is more properly termed a Morton’s Fork. A Hobson’s Choice, on the other hand, is the opportunity to select between something and nothing.
Thomas Hobson was the owner of a livery stable in 17th century Cambridge, England. He was notorious for offering his customers only one choice. He leased horses, much as cars are leased today, but would require his clientele to chose the charger in the stall nearest the door. In this way, Hobson was able to rotate his extensive stable of mares instead of giving the customer the opportunity to select from the best. Patrons could either accept to contract the horse they were offered or take none at all! Hence the recognizable phrase, “take it or leave it!”
The most celebrated application of Hobson’s Choice was Henry Ford’s 20th century Model-T. Ford promised his customers a car in any color of their choice . . . “as long as it was black.” The late visionary Steve Jobs also leveraged the power of Hobsonian commerce by insisting that the iPhone and subsequent iPod must both be designed with the use of only one button. No matter where the user wanted to go, the single call-to-action button quickly and simply returned the individual to the home screen. For all three-business leaders the customer was given only one choice.
Unlike Hobson and his entrepreneurial protégés, daily life presents humankind a menagerie of countless choices. Fortunately, with sufficient information and proper preparation, business leaders are able to make appropriate decisions concerning their personal as well as professional initiatives. Sometimes, however, even the most seasoned individuals regret previous resolutions. Wishing for reprieve, many are caught in the endless cycle of study and disquiet, anxiously awaiting vivid Delphic-like revelations.
The maxim is clear: the choices we make today will have a persuasive impact on the decisions we are asked to make tomorrow. Indeed, choices do establish a pattern for our respective lives. We can make wise choices that lead to happiness and success, or we can make bad selections that contribute to expiry. Consequently, if leaders are to avoid being snookered by Hobsonian-like circumstances, they must adopt a savvy method for managing their life-choices. Only by developing intelligence, humility and prudence can they be assured of reaching more judicious judgments.
The most important life-choice that a leader must make does not concern the choice of horse, automobile or cutting-edge PDA technology. Rather, it centers on the nature of their worldview. What is the cause, the personality and/or faith, the steady compass, that governs personal as well as professional choices? Joshua, the Old Testament Jewish military leader, demanded a reply to such a life-choice query from his fellow Israelites. Unfortunately, while the majority vacillated, Joshua confidently expressed his family’s unified response: “as for me and my household,” he insisted, “we have chosen to serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15)!
The worldview that Joshua and his family endorsed was not a political philosophy, societal cause, or commercial tactic. It was not based on chance or serendipity. On the contrary, it was grounded on a person! It centered on an intimate relationship with a God Who would later quietly incarnate in a nondescript town. In contrast to popular conception, however, this most significant of historical infants was not born in a wooden manger but in a modest cave-hewn stable. In fact, the actual Greek word translated as “manger” refers to a “stall” where animals were often fed and sheltered (Luke 13:15). In either case, the Bethlehem Stable provides a vivid contrast to Hobson’s 17th century barn. While both symbolize a life-governing design, the life-choice viewpoint that characterize each, could not be further evinced!
The contemporary Christian leader is caught between the belvederes of these two stables. Hobson’s stable promotes the single option – a one horse, self-serving philosophy. Leaders who advance this lifestyle framework impose pre-determined saddles on their causes and/or customers. The Bethlehem stable, on the other hand, symbolically tenders an endless variety of more sympathetic alternatives. Leaders who bend the knee to this worldview freely choose the economy of facility and service – providing others an indefinite variety of provisions and possibilities.
A “take-it-or-leave it” philosophy is an abdication of our God-like image that provides the distinction of free will – the choice and privilege of creatively attending to the needs of others! Regrettably, many leaders prefer the ease of such singularity to the endless choices associated with servant-centered resolutions.
In the end, the choice of which stable we prefer is ultimately ours to make!