Wednesday, August 8, 2007

NPR - Making Choices

How many times have we stood on the mental crossroads, wondering and thinking which road should we take. Trying to guess the future if we went each one, and knowing we really don't know what will happen except we have to make a choice and walk into the future. In short we're faced with three basic choices.

We can go left, right or straight. You can rephrase this to be up, down or sideways; yes, no or neither; backward, forward or neither; or some such set of words to describe what's there, and what roadsign to follow. And while there may be more than 3 choices, almost every instance can be broken down into three basic choices. We can do what we know, do what we're doing, or do what we don't know.

It's really that simple, it's the road we choose that's the hard part. The decision is usually made with incomplete information, using our intuition, others' advice, and so on, but mostly within the psychological framework called bounded rationality. It's human nature, no one has all the knowledge and information they need to make a decision.

We either eliminate or ignore information or we simply don't have it to use. We reduce the information into a framework that fits the decisions we need to make. And sometimes we reduce the information to fit one decision, which makes it a non-decision in our mind. The proverbial, "I had no choice." But in reality, it's us who do this, making a choice to be a non-choice.

And why this idea? We face them throughout our life and most of the time the choices are obvious and the decision innocuous, meaning, it's just a part of normal life. Nothing important, critical or life threatening. But every now and then, often when we're not prepared or least expect it, we're standing at a crossroad where the choices are major. And sometimes the choices have to turnaround, meaning once on them, we can't change or not without serious impacts in our life.

I had to make this when I retired. I had long thought through the costs, work, life, etc., as best I can, but in the end, there is a moment I have to say, "I'm retiring.", and fill out the paperwork, sign and date it, and send to our Human Resources Office. And we're done, life is what we chose and we have to travel the road we took. And in retirement I'm making more of these as my new life comes on the horizon to meet me with new crossroads.

I often visualize some of these crossroads as walking along a ridgeline when we reach the forks where one roads goes left into a valley we see, one road goes right over a hill into another valley we can not see, and one road goes straight along the ridge onto a hill over which we do not know. And we stand there. Sometimes which road, sometimes looking at a map of information, and sometimes looking at the sky wondering.

But eventually we have to continue walking.

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