Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? There’s a scene at the end that has become so iconic that it is often parodied in popular culture. Harrison Ford, playing the daring archaeologist Indiana Jones, is working with his father Henry Jones, played by Sean Connery, to find the Holy Grail. His quest leads him to an underground cave, and he comes upon a room filled with what looks like hundreds of different chalices. The Grail Knight who is guarding this sacred room says to Jones, “Choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” The viewer then sees Jones’s competitor pick and drink from one of the many chalices in the room – and his body quickly turns to bones. The Grail Knight looks at Indiana Jones and says, “He chose…poorly.”
I’m not sure about you, but often I feel like Indiana Jones in the Grail room. I am faced with a decision, and there seem to be a million possible options in front of me. Or sometimes the choice is just between two things, but it still isn’t much easier. The problem for me is that I have my own Grail Knight in my head. He tells me that if I make the wrong choice, I will certainly die! That idea can leave me paralyzed, unable to make any choice at all for extreme fear of the unknown and possibly deadly consequence I will face.
If I am honest with myself, the outcomes of my choices are never so dire. We don’t live on “lets make a deal” where the first door leads to happiness and the second leads to misery. If choices were that clear, it wouldn’t be hard at all! Door number one please! Choices are hard because the far end of the path we choose is mostly unknown. Most likely, the decision is hard because all options have potential good parts to them. It’s hard because we don’t have a crystal ball that shows us all the possibilities that go along with making a certain decision. We must choose despite the ambiguity that we face.
When I look back on my life and the choices I have made, I am generally happy with where my choices have lead. Even when I can see that I made a bad choice, I can find good things that resulted from it. It’s a fun game to play sometimes: “Well if I hadn’t chosen this, then XY and Z good things wouldn’t have been possible.” It’s also a hard game because we don’t know how XY and Z would look if a different choice had been made instead.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” In other words, it’s all a trick of retrospect. We can look back at our choices and be grateful for where they led us. We can look ahead at the choice in front of us and know that once we are past it, we will most likely be able to see some good outcomes from the choice we make – either way.
With this thinking, I can see that choosing “poorly” or “wisely” isn’t really the issue. The trick is making a choice at all. Once we do that, it’s hindsight that can help us see the good from it – either way we decide to go. Next time you have to choose between two or a million possibilities, remember that the Grail Knight is fiction. Because your choice is YOURS, it will lead you somewhere great.