“Decision – To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.” Ambrose Bierce
Can we all agree there is a gap between deciding and doing?
As in, what the hell am I going to blog about, and actually blogging?
This space can be wide or narrow depending on the decision one has chosen to make. We have long term goals around things like relationships, occupation, ownership, travel, education, maybe even retirement. Then there are the short gaps when deciding weather to answer a call, read this blog (couldn’t resist), or which nose ring to wear?
Calm down Looney, these are examples, not decisions.
This is a hot topic (not the nose ring), especially in January, when the majority of the population is going berserk with overly ambitious resolutions, declarations, and aspirations. I think I spend more time planning my vacations then my life but that’s just me. The truth is many of us spend a lot of time considering, comparing, cultivating, compromising, and complaining but refuse to take action. What’s up with that?
Fad diets are on the rise in January, along with health club memberships, lifestyle changes, and let’s not snub the war on clutter, which will dissolve faster than the Arctic ice caps if you get my drift. “And all the voices, all the goals, all the yearnings, all the sorrows, all the pleasures, all the good and evil, all of them together was the world. All of them together was the stream of events, the music of life,” says
I get it.
I thought by this age I would have it all figured out.
News flash, I don’t, and I think Pope Francis is with me.
The truth is decisions, trivial or momentous, fill our days.
- Was something there?
- What was that?
- What did I miss?
- What should I do?
- Should I do it?
- When to do it?
- Was it the right choice?
“It’s not about making the right choice. It’s about making a choice and making it right.” J.R. Rim
There are basically two kinds of choices I read about in my narrow band of research. One involves how the brain resolves ambiguity perceived in the environment in which we live, such as calculating someone else’s mood, motivation, intention (and by the way we’re usually wrong), while the other involves how the brain controls action, what to do, and when to do it. See the difference? Go ahead read that again.
It’s all about control, which is a total illusion, but hey I don’t blame you for trying.
Decisions require not only a myriad of invisible processes, informed by our gleaned experience, but also the availability of possible choices, and might I add funds. For example what if there was only Folger’s coffee, no expresso, or mocha shots, no fat free, foam free options, hand filtered, hard pressed, or decaffeinated versions? Life would be a lot easier in my opinion, less costly, with less indigestion.
The point being the fewer the choices the less stressful the decision process.
Now lets agree that ideas travel on vocabulary (I read that somewhere), meaning if words are not used consistently then the idea can be misunderstood, lost if you will. Right? Like this entire blog which half of you have given up on already. Poor resolve people, tsk, tsk.
I’ve been reading the literature on decision making (riveting stuff) and found behavioral neurophysiology is full of words like decision (a conclusion reached after consideration), intention (aim or plan), choices (an act of selecting when two or more possibilities exist), expecting (as likely to happen), attending (pay attention to) and intending (planning to do a specified thing). It’s so damn complicated I almost decided to give up. See what I did there?
But I persevered, wrote the damn blog, you’re welcome.
What do these words mean? Are they different for philosophers, lawyers, or the woman on the street? Because if we can all agree on the definitions then there may be some relevancy for all of us. Can we agree to agree? Good.
“I feel that way right now. Ask me in two or three months and I may change. I don’t think I will. I’m pretty sure that’s my decision.” Michael Jordan
The first thing we have to ask ourselves is if action is a necessary condition of choice? Such a good question. Because if so, a choice is not finished until some basic act is produced, a conversation occurs, a credit card is scanned, a ring is offered, or signature scrawled. Think of the courage it took our Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence?
You can’t just decide to be gluten free without actively avoiding wheat, or protest the taxation on tea without tossing it into the harbor. There are many examples of choices we don’t choose to act on, some more important than others, like relationships, beliefs, causes, and such. But the decision not to act is quite possibly an action in itself?
Is doing this a necessary condition for choosing this? If you consider relationships for example, is marriage a condition (not a consideration) for choosing someone to date? Hell no and thank the Lord. Two people can meet, cast their nets for each other so to speak, but maybe they’re only fishing, more of a catch and release kind of affiliation? To each her own.
I guess my very belabored question would be this: Without follow through are choices just meaningless processes of the brain?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there is an entire chapter on the meaning of action. As in I have identified that I have to go to the bathroom, I can get up and go, or choose to squirm at my desk. Both actions with different outcomes.
What is an action? What does it mean to do something? One approach is to consider what occurs when we voluntarily act? In the classroom when I pose a question to my students they have to decide if they know the answer or not (many do and choose not to respond), if they want to speak or not (some raise their hand without knowing the answer), while others are watching a disney movie on their iPhone. Every one of these choices involve a deliberate action (or inaction) and they have consequences.
“In leadership, life and all things it’s far wiser to judge people by their deeds than their speech – their track record rather than their talk” Rasheed Ogunlaru”
As we can see choices are not actions themselves, thought is inactive, effort can be too (as in it takes effort to think). And although effort is not always action it does define how the action will be performed. Effort modifies action like adjectives modify nouns. A student can raise a hand without thinking, or visa versa, think without raising their hand.
According Chapin & Nicolelis, choice is always a choice of some action, and we cannot exert our will unless it is the will with which we act or try to act. I think that is super important. Could we all just pause and snap our fingers for a bit?
Just being in the world is a privilege but we also get to actively participate with every decision we act on. It’s called free will and it’s a gift.
This is where the love fits in, in the gap, the space between impetus and action. It’s an opportunity, not a given, and this is where our choices take center stage, covering not only our actions, as if frosting on a cake, but imbuing our character with the essence of love.
Our actions have consequences, intentional, or not. Are we not only responsible for the consequences of our actions, but what about the interpretation of our actions, or reception of said actions, especially when it is not what we intended? For example when telling an off-color joke at a Presbyterian convention, you thought you were being funny, but unintentionally offended eighty percent of the people in the room, and now you feel misunderstood. You can apologize, slither out to freshen up your drink, or sulk in the corner. Your call.
“In eternity there is no time, only an instant long enough for a joke.”
If our intentions play a critical role in how our actions are interpreted then it seems there are some actions which, at least in certain circumstances, cannot be done unintentionally. This happens in life and the classroom. I’ve just given a riveting lecture (matter of opinion) on the nature of God, I’ve posed an intriguing question, a students is wildly waving her hand, I think I finally have them all in the palm of my hand, and she says, “can I go to the bathroom.” Really?
I realize this is a total failure to love. Squirm!
One thing to consider is that intentions may or may not be realized. I’m not aways intentional when I speak, drive, write (sadly), or purchase something. I slammed my credit card down at a local wine bar recently, ordered two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc, when Larry really wanted a nice pour of Tempranillo. Who knew? Having an intention involves conceiving an action (I’m going to order two glasses of wine), in the process of realizing a desired goal (quenching our thirst), I think it’s accomplished, only I got the varietal wrong. Story of my life.
Once we set up our resolutions for the year, these become intentions, like it or not, this is what we call a consequence of deliberation, which then leads to a choice, which requires action. Have you read If you give a Mouse a Cookie? Richard Thaler says “as the importance of a decision grows, the tendency to rely on quantitative analyses done by others tends to shrink. When your future is on the line, people tend to rely on their gut instincts.
“Wishing is nice but doing is better.”
So let me dissolve all your delusions about resolutions right here and now. There is a gap and you are living in it. You are the composite of all the work performed in the gap. Intentions resulting from deliberation and choice develop explicitly, consciously, and this kind of intention involves your character, the way in which you move in the world. Yes indeed. Maybe when we whittle it down to the marrow, cultivating love gives you clarity and compassion for life, and when your actions happen in accordance with that which you resolve, your love spills into the world.
Love appears to be the ladder which leads one out of the gap. As Hermann Hesse reminds us, we are not going in circles, we are going upwards.
I’m Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll deliberate.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SUE!
- “To hold our tongues when everyone is gossiping, to smile without hostility at people and institutions, to compensate for the shortage of love in the world with more love in small, private matters; to be more faithful in our work, to show greater patience, to forgo the cheap revenge obtainable from mockery and criticism: all these are things we can do. ”
- “Not in his speech, not in his thoughts, I see his greatness, only in his actions, in his life.”