Two Powerful Picks on Choice

Thursday, December 14, 2017

I've been thinking off and on about choice a lot lately, so the title of a recent post on the subject by Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions piqued my interest. I am glad it did, and I think others will find it valuable, too. The post offers advice on re-framing both hard choices and the "no-brainers" that often lead us to say things like, "I had no choice." Here's Moroney's summary:

[I]t matters for your long-term happiness and sense of efficacy that when you think you have "no choice" you consider the option you've rejected out of hand, and make a conscious, considered decision based on all of the values at stake. Because you really do have a choice, and it matters for you that you know it. [bold added]
The earlier part of the post goes a long way towards helping the reader see how to discover these options, or even develop others by considering them, sometimes even if the options are bad. To be clear, this isn't the only respect in which that knowledge matters.

Moroney's post reminded me of a short TED talk on hard choices I've known about for a while, but hadn't gotten around to listening to. In that talk, philosopher Ruth Chang focuses on hard choices. These are the kind, often (but not always) at life's crossroads, for which the options are on a par within one's hierarchy of values, but which are not easily comparable.

Ruth Chang, discussing one of her hard choices. Click image for talk.

Chang, too, offer a better way of looking at these than comes naturally to many people:
Now, people who don't exercise their normative powers in hard choices are drifters. We all know people like that. I drifted into being a lawyer. I didn't put my agency behind lawyering. I wasn't for lawyering. Drifters allow the world to write the story of their lives. They let mechanisms of reward and punishment -- pats on the head, fear, the easiness of an option -- to determine what they do. So the lesson of hard choices: reflect on what you can put your agency behind, on what you can be for, and through hard choices, become that person.

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are. And that's why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend. [bold added]
What great advice!

A good thing about the advice that might not be apparent, since most people who will seek it out are facing a big decision, is that it can even apply to a past decision, such as a good one made that one might have had lingering doubts about for whatever reason. In my case, Chang helped me realize that I didn't fully embrace a hard decision I had to make some years ago. I'd come to terms with parts of it over time, but, if you listen to the talk, I think you will see that there can be a much happier outcome than just "coming to terms" with the decision one has made about a hard choice.

-- CAV

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