What should you choose - which path is the right one, and how do you get to the gate of happiness? Personal counsel will be needed in the future. Various alternative movements and religions have already invaded the market, but their concepts are too limited and narrow - they often only provide a single solution. The counsellor of the future has to clarify different possibilities and consequences so that you can make the right decisions based on their advice. The life counsellors of the future are parents, friends, aunts and uncles, student counsellors, human resource managers, teachers, priests, etc. Somebody has to accept this necessary task of helping people find the right balance. This life counsel is about more than the passing on of experience, as has been practised for centuries. Passing on experience is not enough in the modern society. Modern life counsel should be based in the individual, the time and the place.
By Birthe Linddal Hansen
In the everyday situations of the present and future we constantly have to make choices, and no matter how much we want there to be, there are no absolute answers. There is no hotline to Our Lord.
It begins in your childhood when your grandfather gives you a large, shiny coin with which to buy ice cream. So you stand there with your expectant appetite and must choose between 20 different ice creams. Some taste of strawberry and others of liquorice. There are ice creams and ice-lollies, there are big ice cream cones and small ones on sticks. You suddenly see the possibility of buying a cheap ice cream and save half the money for later, or you could buy candy for all the money. Suddenly Grandma shouts that you have to make up your mind because we're leaving in two minutes. You ask your grandfather's advice, hoping for an answer that can settle the big decision. But grandfather isn't much help. He doesn't know what you like, and he hasn't tasted any of the new, strange ice creams. So there you are, five years old and faced with the difficult art of making decisions. There are no absolute answers, no matter how much you want there to be!
The coercion of freedom
The modern diverse world offers a long range of possibilities in all personal spheres; possibilities that you not only have to choose between, but which you also have to relate to. In the modern world there is an implicit, latent demand that you consider and reflect on why you do what you do. At the same time you are in control of what fate you choose. The responsibility is your own.
What a delight it is to be able to choose. Just think of how many choices we have compared to 50 years ago. But still, we tend to choose the golden mean. Still, we choose not to choose. Still, we often make the wrong choices. The flip side of the many choices is that every time you make a choice, you also reject something. Every time you make a choice, there are consequences. Many of the choices can't be regretted.
Holding fate in our own hands
In the future there will be even more crossroads to pass, and the meaning of life becomes even more indefinable seen in the light of the many immediate possibilities, which anyway all contain elements of limitation.
Life in the future will come to resemble more the life of a backpacker than any fixed, anchored routine like we have known earlier and know today. Life becomes full of choices that we have to consider and fill our backpacks with.
The backpack is your habitat, and the more you put in it on your journey, the more you are influenced and changed; the better you become at navigating, travel farther, and testing new boundaries. But it also becomes harder to find solid ground and to belong.
The reflexive human being has been left with its fate in its own hands. We have become personally responsible for making the most of life; the socio-constructivist approach of the 1970s (“society is to blame”) has become unfashionable. Excuses and denial of personal responsibility don't hold water. The criteria of success are action, optimisation and success, whether individually, socially, intellectually, physically or professionally. “Pull yourself together, man, life is full of opportunities!”
The important choices of the future are multidimensional choices that will have consequences for your life.
One example is the choice of profession. Today many youths only spend 15 minutes of their lives on professional counsel - education counselling. 15 minutes on so big a thing, which you first have to educate yourself for and then work with for a large part of your life; a thing that will have colossal influence on your identity. 15 minutes is no time at all seen in relation to the consequences of the decision. Not to mention ‘waste of time' if you choose the wrong line of education and drop out.
In the future we will and must become better at making decisions, especially the crucial decisions in our lives, because we no longer act according to tradition. We have to become better through practice, preparation, experience and professional guidance. At the same time we have to become more conscious of the risk of holding fate in our own hands. But reaching that level of recognition - the point where you manage to choose from the diversity of modern life - is probably not something you do alone. As the German sociologist Ulrich Beck writes, we have “individualisation in common”. In other words, it is a common condition for modern man to have to choose.
Or as Finn Skårderud, Norwegian physician, psychiatrist and observer of the mental conditions of modern man, puts it in his 1999 book Uro : en reise i det moderne selvet (Unease - a Journey into the Modern Self): “Take this responsibility from me, care for me, hold me! I'm a little bit confused.”
Coaching - a choice counsellor
Modern man can't always carry these choices alone and thus needs some form of coaching in the future. There will increasingly be a need for advice and guidance, personally, socially and career-wise. We will need a life counsellor, a mixture of priest, agent, psychologist, student counsellor, career consultant and social counsellor. Somebody that can advice you about the significance of a choice and its possibilities and consequences. Somebody that can help you cut your personal track through the jungle of opportunities and question things in order to make you make more conscious choices.
What are the values I have? What resources do I have to work with? What would it take to make me happy? And how do I make it happen? The life of the future is so full of possibilities, and the human being of the future is so keen to get the best out of life, that we can't afford to waste time. We will be in even more need of competent guidance in life's difficult choices. Not that you can't or shouldn't make these choices on your own. But guidance can be of help. Just think of how much help a dietician or real estate agent can be.
What does the personal responsibility mean?
“Why not just follow the course of events and let fate decide rather than becoming stressed?” one might be tempted to ask. The answer is: because modern man can't stop thinking and reflecting. Reflexivity is an integrated part of the life of modern man, something that we can't reject, but have to live with.
Future man will need counselling in order to move on, make the right choices and get a good life. The choices of the future can be so complex that your own rigid subjectivity by itself can't be responsible for the choice. A provocative question in an individualised world could be: Is a man big enough to take responsibility for his own life by himself?
With fate and responsibility in your own hand, a grandfather who doesn't know anything and a grandmother who shouts that time is running out, a decision must be made. Not just now, but also tomorrow and the day after. A lot of decisions, where some have serious consequences for your life. There are choices that must be made, but since nobody knows the number for the hotline to Our Lord - and since God is dead anyway - you are forced to make the choices on your own.
But we have the multitude of choices in common. We have in common that we live in the world and age of choices.