Life is full of choices at times. Sometimes we feel as if we have no choice because we are forced to do something. But generally, most societies do allow some degree of choice. In the West, choice is directly tied to the concept of human rights.
Now the quality of our choices is pretty diverse. There are Easy Choices, Hard to See Choices, and Hard to Choose Choices.
The Easy Choices are those that have clear consequences. A good choice would be something that creates a positive outcome while a bad choice would create a negative outcome. Few people would intentionally make choices that have negative consequences for themselves.
The Hard to See Choices are those that have long term consequences that we are unaware of. The nuclear disaster in Japan is a great example of this. Because human beings are so predisposed to thinking short term, they are guilty of making short term choices and ignore the long term consequences. If the company officials did a long term evaluation of building nuclear plants near oceans and fault lines, perhaps they would not have proceeded as they did. Maybe they still would have, believing the long term risk is not so bad. The problem with these Hard to See choices is that we don’t know or understand the consequence of our actions because it might be a generation or two into the future that the effects will be felt.
But both the Easy and Hard to See Choices are about hindsight working. It might take a bit of deductive work, but generally we can learn from and improve our choices to make for a better outcome.
The Hard To Choose Choices are the crux of this blog post. They are the ongoing dilemma that bedevils the human condition. They represent the dilemma about choosing between the greater of two goods or the lesser of two evils. Here are some examples:
- Time vs Money
- General Knowledge vs Specialist Knowledge
- Being Happy vs Being Right
- Freedom vs Security
- Justice vs Peace
- Risk vs Reward
Lets take the first dilemma to illustrate the difficulty of making choices. We all want money because it gives us greater control over our lives. The more money you have, the more different choices you will have available to you. Now time is something that we have no control over. We can’t control how fast time travels past us, we have some limited control over how many years we will live, and about the only thing we can control is how we spend our energy during the time we have left on this planet. Yet in the business world there is this constant dilemma between these two ‘goods’. How do we get the greatest return on our investment? This is determine in great part on the time frame. If you got a 10% return over 10 years, that is only 1% a year, but a 10% over 6 months is a 20% return.
It is these dilemmas that challenge our judgment and intelligence. It belies the absurdity of the human condition. We all want justice and want peace, yet they actually run counter to each other at times. The same thing happens with the other examples listed such as Security vs Freedom, etc. Combine these dilemmas with the Hard to See Choices and its little wonder we make as many mistakes as we do.