My Proverbs 21
First time I learned there was a mathematical something called Decision Theory, I thought “Hallelujah! No more wrong roads stumbling down; no more wrong answers; no more failures!” As you might have guessed that in and of itself was a wrong conclusion!
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (Yes, I am one of those prehistoric dinosaurs who still owns a set of hard-copy volumes of knowledge!), decision theory is “a set of quantitative methods for reaching optimal decisions. A solvable decision problem must be capable of being tightly formulated in terms of initial conditions and choices or courses of action, with their consequences. In general, such consequences are not known with certainty but are expressed as a set of probabilistic outcomes. Each outcome is assigned a “utility” value based on the preferences of the decision maker. An optimal decision, following the logic of the theory, is one that maximizes the expected utility. Thus, the ideal of decision theory is to make choices rational by reducing them to a kind of routine calculation.”
AS you can see, my end-all wrong-choices theory has one very big stumbling block in order to work. All my problems, my things needing a decision, must be able to be “stated”, defined if you will, in specific and finite terms with equally specific and finite choices and consequences. If only life were that simple!
We are all faced with the need to make decisions, to select paths to walk every day. Often we are faced with such every hour. Sometimes we have a pretty clear idea of what we need to decide but the consequences are often obscure or unknown. Then there is that other component of living on a planet with hundreds of millions of other people. What they do affects what we do. We will, at some point in our lives, live out the consequences of another person’s decision(s).
Roughly three hundred and ninety-one years ago an Englishman became ill. As was typical of the period, he viewed illness as a type of internal sinfulness and regaining one’s health as a result from a visit from the Almighty. The man penned a meditation for each of the twenty-three days he was ill. On day seventeen, John Donne penned: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a cloud be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
A wise person makes their decisions based upon known variables such as the risks involved, possible rewards, potential consequences, or expected outcomes. There is no right or wrong theory that adequately makes every decision for us. The human variable is too…well, variable. No one has a crystal ball that gazes into a definitive future. All we can do is try to develop a strong character that will enable us to withstand the rewards and consequences of whatever decisions we may make.
Life might be characterized as a series of “this or that”. We are constantly making decisions. Some are minor and some are major. The minor things like what to eat for a snack or which shirt to wear have no serious repercussions initially. However, sometimes even those must have other things added into the decision-making process. Living in certain areas with gang activity might indicate that wearing certain colors would not be wise. The person consistently eating unhealthy snacks will one day have to face some serious health consequences.
Reality house-purchasing television programs often show the couple buying the home eliminating one of the choices. This is yet another way to make decisions. Narrowing the field of options can help identify the correct course. Ultimately, though, at some point we will inevitably make a wrong decision. Having the strength of character and faith to continue on, in spite of that wrong decision, will turn that wrong choice into a life lesson of value and knowledge.
Roy Disney, brother to Walt and head of Disney Studios, once said: “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” First decide what you hold to be true. Identify exactly who and what it is you wish to be and how you want to be remembered. A person seeking integrity should not rob a bank, for instance, although honestly, no one should ever rob a bank! You cannot desire to be taken seriously as a person of character if you are not prepared to live the talk you talk. The saying “Walk the walk and talk the talk” has a great deal of good truth and advice in it.
Everyone makes wrong decisions. That is how we learn. Learning leads to growth and growth leads to being a better person. Deepak Chopra explains it this way: “If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. If this sounds too mystical, refer again to the body. Every significant vital sign- body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, hormone level, brain activity, and so on- alters the moment you decide to do anything… decisions are signals telling your body, mind, and environment to move in a certain direction.”
Nothing was ever done until someone decided to do it. Nothing great was ever accomplished until someone made that decision with some trepidation. Life is full of possibilities but each comes with some uncertainty. What may be wrong today might be right tomorrow. Living the faith, exemplifying our beliefs is what makes a decision sound. No man is an island and every decision we make will affect at least one other person. As Neil Gaiman said, ““Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.” A decision made in the effort to live one’s beliefs and harm no one might result in a temporary fall but ultimately it will result in the soaring of one’s character, strong in the beauty of living and making decisions. When the bell of decision rings, we will sound it with conviction and faith.
My Proverb 22
There is no one who makes only perfect decisions. The most perfect choice is one made for the common good, individually, and not because everyone else is doing it.