How to make better decisions
More ethical dilemmas to stretch your brain
We wanted to grow up so we could do what we wanted. Then the realization hit – we can’t. We must make decisions for everything and learn to live with trade-offs. And we must consider complicated things like civic duties, political affiliations, and how to behave in society.
Ultimately, the current circumstances of our lives can be explained, at least substantially, by looking back at the decisions we’ve made over time. So, it makes sense that we should know how to do a good job. Of course, no one’s life is perfect, but some folks have really screwed it up! And tomorrow, that person could be you or me because it’s never too late to make a huge mistake or a series of small ones that add up to a major annoyance we’d rather be without.
What are the ingredients of a decision?
Some part belief.
Mix in habits.
Season with information or misinformation.
In a pan of circumstances.
Bake on low heat until it rises to the level of action.
Enjoy the consequences!
The easiest thing in the world is to decide wrong! Often, with the added benefit of being convinced that it is the very thing you absolutely should be doing! Conviction goes a long way. So long that it prevents people from quitting or changing course until it’s too late. Conviction could cause blindness, loss of sense, unnecessary defensiveness, and unexplained anger in the face of conflicting information.
How to improve your decision-making process.
Expose yourself early and often to various opinions, experiences, perspectives, explanations, and examples of what happens to people who decide to take different paths.
Explore your beliefs and values. They sway your predispositions, preferences, and tolerances, as well as what you avoid and dislike. Update and upgrade your beliefs and values regularly. I wrote about that in a previous post.
Stay alert. Notice your thinking and what moves you. I talked about the value of building good habits for everyday living in one of my posts, but in your decision-making process, make it a habit not to allow habits to make your important decisions for you. Be conscientious, consider, ponder, explore, sleep on it, talk things out with trusted people, write it down, meditate on it. Don’t always do what you’ve always done, or you will always have what you’ve always had. If you didn’t like it before, you wouldn’t like it again. Isn’t this the definition of insanity?
Pay attention to what you pay attention to. Remember my posts on tricks your mind plays on you? But wait! There are more! Another trick your mind plays on you is to make you think you made a decision. “Researchers in Australia were able to predict basic choices participants made 11 seconds before they consciously declared their decisions.” That’s because the brain evolved to take shortcuts supposedly to make your life better. The first response that comes to mind could be correct, but it’s likely a conditioned response, not necessarily the best one. You won’t know unless you mindfully contemplate it.
Start with the end in mind! What is it that you actually want? People say they want money, but what most want is what they think money can provide – freedom, independence, peace of mind, security, more fun. But each of these can be obtained through a different route, and some require just a shift in perception! Poorly stated goals and misunderstood intentions lead to bad decisions like “ten thousand forks when all you need is a spoon.”
Discover available options. This requires sincere education on what your options are, considering your experiences, resources, beliefs, and values. Having someone to think with you can gift you additional ideas, resources, and pathways. Also, find out how others have done what you want to do.
Avoid fear. That’s FOMO and fear of doing the wrong thing. Sometimes, having too many options makes you feel that if you pick one, you will miss out on another. Not making a choice could make you feel the same. Don’t go there. Decide and move on. Other times, you worry too much about making the wrong decision. If you keep paying attention after you decide, you can always course-correct. It’s better than the agony and wasted time in indecisiveness. Stay forward-looking!
Do a cost-benefit analysis of your options. Do the geek thing where you make a spreadsheet and write down the benefits and costs of each option in two separate columns, then compare them. Also, do a cost-benefit analysis of not acting because not acting is also a decision you make and comes with consequences. Sounds like too much work? It may be if all you want to decide is where to go for dinner. But if you are deciding on a career, a financial move, or a relationship situation, you may want to put in the work.
Practice stretching your imagination and comfort zone. Consider ethical dilemmas you encounter in movies, books, and real-life stories. How would you act? Those are usually the hooks writers put in to keep you glued to the drama. What would you do had the story involved you? Plato had a good one. What if you must return a gun (“a weapon” in his time) you borrowed from a friend, but your friend is unstable and suicidal? He’s asking for the gun. Would you give it back, thus fulfilling your promise? Or keep it to protect your friend’s life, potentially? Would you give it back if your friend plans to kill someone you deeply despise? Someone who’s molested children? Someone who killed your child?
For the last two years, the moral dilemma boggling minds has been between individual freedom to choose and do what’s best for collective well-being. We all value both because we all understand the benefits of both. Without individual freedom of choice, we suffer. That’s what happens in totalitarian societies. Without collective well-being, this society becomes unlivable. For the sake of collective well-being, we’ve created systems – the educational system, healthcare system, public safety, emergency services, national defense, public transportation, social security, garbage collection, the energy grid, the court of law, and many more. We’ve acknowledged the necessity to give up a little bit of freedom to get the benefit of others doing things for us, like chasing criminals, putting out fires, administering pensions, educating our children, building and maintaining the roads, etc. We call this “the social contract.”
Remember last week’s Matrix post and the two ways of looking at situations – the utilitarian and the right/wrong way? (By the way, a fellow writer also went down the Matrix talking about the moral case of seeing things as they are in THIS essay. Check him out.)
In our case, the utilitarian approach will call for instituting public health measures, including mandating vaccines, to assure the greatest utility for the greatest number of people. The most vaccinated countries have achieved this status in one of two ways. Either their populations happily adopted the vaccines (Spain 90%, Chile 91%, Portugal 94%, UAE 99%), or were mandated for all people or some groups. Clearly, the willing did not have to be forced to do anything. They just did it.
The Kantian solution invokes universal principles of right and wrong. Individual freedom is one such principle, considered a universal right and good, because should the opposite be the norm, it becomes a universally lousy situation. No wonder people defend it. Deontologists argue that no one should be thrown off the bridge to stop the train because killing people is universally wrong, even though the train brings death to millions across the world, creating a universally lousy situation. If you don’t know which train I am referring to, read last week’s post.
We’ve been unable to agree and remain unsuccessful in merging both as we’ve done for so many other areas of life.
But this in itself leads to more dilemmas.
Who are you going to trust? Everyone’s got an agenda. The guy next door who believes his right to freedom supersedes everything else? He thinks that getting Covid is OK because he’ll get natural immunity. Then he gets it, survives, and tells everyone it’s not that big of a deal (Remember Trump getting COVID?). In a way, he’s right because, for most people who do get Covid, it is NOT a big deal. Most people will survive it, with or without medical intervention. Then, the old lady down the street decides she doesn’t need a vaccine because of him. She gets Covid and dies. Who’s fault is it? How would you feel if she was your mom or your sister? How would you feel if you were “the guy next door?” Would you feel differently if the old lady was your wife? How would you feel if your younger child died because of COVID it got from you? Would you feel responsible for their preventable deaths?
Of course, the way our government promotes the vaccines, it sounds like you shouldn’t get it anyway. They tell you the vaccines protect against hospitalization and death. And you know that most people don’t end up there anyway. So, you wonder, what’s the big deal about these vaccines. It must be some other reason they want the world vaccinated. The whole world! This non-committal messaging, designed to protect against liability more than to explain costs and benefits of vaccination clearly, leave plenty of room and fertile ground for conspiracies to emerge and give people what they really want – something to hang their hat on, an explanation they can somehow relate to.
In places like Spain and Portugal, they tell people that you have a 90% chance of NEVER GETTING SICK if you get vaccinated (and boosted), not even ever test positive. You can take care of your sick relatives and not get sick. You can be around your sick co-workers and never test positive. Of the remaining 10%, almost everyone remains protected against hospitalizations and death.
What if they told us that in addition to the vaccines, you could do things to increase further your chances of never getting sick, pretty much making yourself 99% invincible? When you have cancer, doctors form a team to deal with various aspects of your treatment. Vaccines, masks, eating healthy, losing weight, exercising, and supplements represent the team against Covid. Together, they make you the strongest you can be, most resilient. If you’d heard this message instead, would you feel differently about your particular situation? Is it possible we would have regarded Covid the same way we no longer worry about getting any of a number of diseases the world has eliminated or controls through vaccines? The same way you accept a tetanus shot, a flu shot, shingles shots, a pneumonia shot, etc.
In conclusion, unrelated but very relevant….
Consider optical illusions. Like this one in which a clever magician makes various worlds appear by tricking your perception. Mind-bending stuff! Must watch. The coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time! Totally worth the four minutes 😊
And now this quote regarding optical illusions from Everything is Amazing:
We can’t get through life without forming opinions. But optical illusions teach us to hold our certainties gently - and to always be humble enough to admit the possibility (maybe not the likelihood, but the possibility) that there’s something much more interesting to learn in every situation, no matter how “obvious” and “real” it appears. When we stop asking questions, curiosity dies. So let’s not stop asking. Maybe that’d be a good way to live.
(On the flip side, it also warns us against the dangers of dogmatically clinging to far less obvious & less popularly accepted concepts, just because they seem thrilling righteous explanations about how the world is secretly being messed up by Those Awful People. Conspiracy theories rely on unquestioning certainty - which is why they’re frequently so attractive, so misleading and so destructive to our ability to think.)
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