Bravery or Fear: You Can’t Know What Drives Other’s Decisions

In 2013 Angelina Jolie wrote an article about her medical decision to pursue a double mastectomy after she learned of her increased risks for breast and ovarian cancer because she inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation. Shortly after writing this story Melissa Etheridge, a breast cancer survivor, explained in an interview that she felt Jolie’s decision was ”fearful” rather than brave.

Etheridge explained her perspective by saying, “My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it as to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels.”

I agree with her that disease is often triggered by stress and therefore prevented by taking a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Yet her words rubbed me the wrong way. For a long time her remarks about Jolie’s choice annoyed me, but I couldn’t place why. Then I had a realization.

I can’t recall exactly what triggered my realization, only that I remember a person explaining how he made a difficult decision between two bad choices. He said that at one point he felt a clear internal direction. It was a moment filled with inspiration and a feeling of love. At that moment he made up his mind and knew he was doing the right thing.

That explanation helped me understand why Melissa Etheridge’s comments annoyed me. She couldn’t know Jolie’s internal experience when she chose the double mastectomy. Without knowing that, it’s impossible for her to say whether it was a decision based in fear or bravery. Etheridge faced the same choice as Jolie, she has the same gene mutation, yet she chose not to get a mastectomy. At the time of the article she was nine years cancer free, however at the time she made her decision others might have said it was a gamble and fear of surgery. Perhaps they may have even said it was selfish since she was unwilling to remove the risk that could rob her from her loved ones.  Those people would have been wrong because Etheridge made her choice based on her internal guidance and faith in holistic medicine.

Let me put it another way – if, when Etheridge made her choice, she acted from inspiration and a feeling of love, she made the courageous and brave choice. As for Angelina Jolie, the same thing can be said. Jolie made the opposite decision, but if, when she made her choice, she acted from inspiration and a feeling of love, she also made the courageous and brave choice.

Personally, I see Jolie as a devoted and daring person. She seems to approach life with gusto, so even though I couldn’t place it immediately, the comments that she made a fearful choice didn’t resonate at all.

I shared all of this because recently I find myself thinking, “WTH is this person doing?!?” I’ve watched an acquaintance make, as it seems to me, one lousy decision after another. I suspect my subconscious is trying to tell me something because this Jolie/Etheridge story has popped into my head several times in the past weeks. Perhaps it’s time that I acknowledge this individual may be making decisions from a well-meaning and loving place (even though I can’t see it).

I encourage you all to do the same. If you are struggling with another person’s decisions, please remember that people usually choose to alleviate their discomfort and improve their circumstances. Even if it seems like the wrong choice to you, it may be the best choice for them given the situation they are in. You will never know the state of their being when they make their choices, so ultimately, you shouldn’t judge what they are doing.

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