Tuesday, March 6, 2007

NPR - Choices I

Choices, how often we think we don't have them, and how often we feel, at best, how few we have. We feel like the hawk in the above photo (taken at the Sacramento Zoo in 1970). I've always wondered what those two birds thought being caged with little room to fly, and never be free. Sometimes I, and I suspect many of us, feel like the hawk, wanting to have choices and feeling we have none except to sit and wonder.

When I was researching a paper a professor and I planned to submit to a oceanographic journal (Shore and Beach) about the impact of the Columbus Day storm on small residential peninsula northwest of Bellingham, Washington, I discovered the idea of choices. The beach front property owners had removed the first dune to get the best view of the Strait of Juan deFuca and Strait of Georgia, up to 60-plus miles, something which turned out to be their own demise.

The winds from the storm came down the Strait of Georgia and generated waves sufficient to throw 50-foot plus 2-3 foot diamater trees through houses and wash away beach wall. This was due to the lack of the first dune to protect the homes and property. Well, in doing the research I ran across the concept of bounded rationality, which explained how people make decisions.

Well, eventually I got the article published which lead to new research on floods in the Skagit River valley in northwest Washington State. That research fell through, but I continued my work into bounded rationality and natural hazards originally used by the Geography Department at the University of Chicago in the early 1960's to survey flood zone property owners. It's been used extensively since updated as the knowledge on the concept improves, but fundamentals still apply.

Why this and the subject of this column? Well, the concept applies to life. We build a frame around an issue in our life and then fill the frame with the choices we want to have, and only then do we think through the choices to make the one that we think will work. Wrong? Not really, but you have to remember you built the frame and you filled it with the choices. But did you ask what are all the choices? Is the frame too small to fit all the choices and information into it?

Do you ask yourself or someone you respect to help find all the choices?

I write this column because after making the big one to retire, I continue to make choices in my life and my photography. And that's what I've found is essential, not just knowing you have choices, but finding all the choices to get the widest array of options. You should build the biggest frame to fill with all the choices. You can always make it smaller when you narrow your choices, but as bounded rationality explains once you remove a choice or not see one, you'll rarely see it again. You keep shrinking the frame.

And this is the problem that many people say, "I didn't have a choice." You always do, you just decided not to see them. You made the choice to ignore or reject the other choices. And that is a choice you made. My problem is I keep the choices and keep revisiting them in the progress I'm making. You see, I hate saying I have no choice. We're conscious, thinking human beings with brains to see, comprehend, understand, analyze, and decide. Being a decision maker isn't necessarily good, it's the choices you have to make the decision with that matters.

And that's the point. Don't short change yourself by not seeing choices.

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