Freedom of choice

The durian is a tropical fruit whose extraordinary pungent odour and piquant taste have divided people into true lovers and decided haters over the centuries. Those who relish the egg yolk coloured squishy flesh swear that it is a wonderful delicacy. But there is nothing delicate about its impact. On the other side of the fence are those who are disdainful of the powerful aroma emanating from it.

Yet the fruit has not been legislatively banned. No one seems to have sought to have it declared obnoxious. This might reflect the tolerant philosophies of ancient Asian cultures. There is freedom of choice: one does not have to eat the fruit just because it is there, or because others desire it.

Now imagine this situation. In an inland town, the local Council-owned swimming pool offers, for a single month preceding the summer holidays, free entrance and lessons. The reason? Each summer, at least one child drowns in the sea about 3 hours’ drive away. Is it probable that anyone might reject this offer on the ground that their offspring might drown in the pool while taking lessons? Is it also possible that someone might deny the children the opportunity to drown-proof themselves, arguing that swimming in a pool with foreigners is not within their cultural parameters?

That is, would they reject a service, much-needed by many, on tribo-cultural grounds? Indeed, might they then argue that the free service should be disallowed because it runs counter to their traditional beliefs?

Then, there are those of a certain religious persuasion who will not accept blood transfusion; but do not deny access by fellow residents to this procedure. In a comparable manner, another religious community rejects meditation as a practice, claiming certain adverse probable outcomes; yet another community will not join the nation’s military or work for the government. Neither religious community, however, denies the right of members of other religious persuasions to meditate, fight for the nation, or work in government administration. That is, they accept freedom of choice as the right of fellow citizens, especially in an officially secular nation.

(The above is an extract from an article of mine published in titled ’Denial of freedom of choice.’)