August 3, 2020

Hobson's Choice

The British tell a story that has a surprisingly contemporary insight. In the 17th century, they understood the problem: the fact that nobody has it all. We, on the other hand, seem to have forgotten that and expect it all.

In 17th century England, they tell us, Thomas Hobson kept a livery stable of 40 horses that he rented out for the ride between Cambridge and London. The size of the stable itself implied that there would be high-quality horses for travelers to choose from for the 64-mile ride. But no.

Hobbes insisted that renters had one choice and one choice only: they could have the horse nearest the stable door. Otherwise, his best horses would be overworked and overrun.

It was a "take it or leave it" proposition. To find oneself confronted with one decision in what seemed to offer a plethora of options came over the years to be called a "Hobson's choice."

That story came back to me again last week as I began to realize how close we are to a national election in which our political choices are a little like the one Hobson allowed....The choice now - my choice — really depends as much on what I am, what my values are, as it does with the candidates we're left with for the years to come. It's my decision that will determine the future now. The horses have been identified. The only question at this point is which of the decisions I'm allowed to make is most likely to carry me to the America I want us most to be. 

"Hobson's choice or a new beginning?" by Joan Chittister

National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 2020