Wisdom Living

Decisions

Introduction

Making decisions is one of the most frequently encountered activities in our life.  The vast majority are individual decisions, which we hardly notice: choosing a new shirt, scrambled or fried eggs for breakfast or go for a walk or not fills our lives. They go on and on from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep. Other decisions we make less frequently like choosing a menu for lunch in a new restaurant or buying a child’s birthday present. However, there are medium-size-decisions, like choosing a place to spend a vacation, buying a new laptop or a fancy smartphone. All these decisions fundamentally involve only ourselves, but there are also mega-decisions, which may, directly or indirectly, affect other people such as the family, work team or committee to which we belong. There are also decisions involving a large sum of money or having profound personal consequences, or both. For example: should I get married to someone, buy a house or move to another city to change a job.

Decision in general

If we expend the idea of making decisions beyond ourselves, and even beyond organisms, which have developed consciousness, we see that making decisions lies at the foundation of life. During the life-cycle, each normal cell has to decide when to replicate its DNA and separate to form two daughter cells. But, we can never predict when exactly it is going to happen.  Furthermore, in one form or another, the unpredictability is present in all decision making.

Later on, during the development of life on our planet, when organisms with some form of conscience evolved, making decisions has been relegated to their nervous system, and still later to the brain. 

Finally, when Homo Sapiens appeared on the scene a few hundred thousand years ago, their decision-making process became extremely complex. There is a variety of factors coming into play, as you can discover, looking at publication on decision making from the cognitive neuroscience point of view.

But purely scientific an approach rarely relates to our personal experiences and even less helps us deal with critically important decision-making. So I decided to approach the subject in the form that does not need any philosophical, moral, economic perspective and concentrate on our own easy-to-identify experiences.

Since all decisions concern the future, their outcome never can be predicted precisely. It is because the very basis of reality is the interplay of the law of cause and effect and unpredictability. On the quantum level, it has been discovered by Heisenberg and called the uncertainty principle. But it happens on a more mundane level: it cannot be predicate when and where condensed humidity produces a single drop of rain, though it can only be assessed statistically. Without these unpredictable changes, the evolution of life would not ever happen. Nevertheless, we do our best to ensure that outcome of our decisions will satisfy our expectations. To accomplish that, we look at our past experience, use our critical intelligence, search for information, examine options and examine alternatives. But the outcome is fundamentally uncertain despite all our efforts to predict it. In other words, we hope but never are sure, and later on, very often disappointed. That causes making decisions painful because we never know if we have chosen a good one. Consequently, we often try to avoid them or postpone them, which often turns out to be a bad strategy.

Before ending this section, I would like to add that I purposely omitted the subject of immediate decisions, such as: should I talk, run away, or fight when being assaulted.  They are very different from the decisions made due to consideration, which are our topic.

What do we do 

To avoid discomfort caused by decision-making, we try to avoid them by creating specific behavioural patterns which help to avoid them. It happens so frequently that we rarely are aware that such practices permeate our lives. To see that, I present a  few very mundane examples.  Instead, to decided what pyjama to choose while we change to a fresh one, we store them in the closet as a pile and pick up the one which lies on the top (of course, this procedure also required a decision). To avoid deciding when to brush teeth, we create a rule to brush them before going to bed or first thing in the morning or do it twice: morning and evening (I excluded a version “not at all” to avoid propagated bad oral hygiene).

However, the trick of creating fixed habits to replace making decisions can only be applied to activities, which do not have a too significant outcome and are frequently repeated. But since their scope is limited, so we invented many additional techniques to reduce discomfort.

Before going further, we must examine the question: why we try to avoid making decisions? Lack of predictability is one of the main reasons reason, but it does not fully explain it. The core of our problem is the fear that we will make the wrong choice and suffer its consequences. 

The key to this fear is that we are rarely straightforward about which decision is a right and which wrong. The issue is pragmatic and philosophical. Unfortunately, philosophers dealing with ethics have spent thousands of years coming up with no answer.

So let us look only at a pragmatic aspect and separate this question into two: the right outcome that only benefits ourselves or others. Who are the “others” may expand from the family, friends, our country, and finally, the whole of our planet. But even the first version, that is, what benefits us, is very difficult. For example, we tried to decide should we buy a new car or not. Many questions arise: is the old one really need to be replaced, and if so, what size the new one should be; what type we prefer; should it be really new or used one but in better shape than then ours; should new one be diesel, gas, hybrid or purely electric (which are better for the environment) and we can get a governmental bonus for buying it? But it is not the end: there comes a variety of financial consideration can we pay it from our savings; is it better to sell the old privately or try trade-in; should we get a low-interest loan or buy it via three years monthly payments? We could go on and on, and further, we go less sure we are what our choice should be, we never are completely satisfied. 

It just one example of many mega-decisions we make. However, there are other even more critical concerning our personal affairs: should I try to change the job, should I get married to such and such a person, should we have a baby, or should I separate from my partner.

Each of such personal mega-decisions forces us into long and painful thinking, considering consequences, looking at alternatives and arousing fear of implications arising from the wrong decision.

However, our life is filled with ongoing minor decisions, which happen all the time. What to drink at breakfast, tea or coffee? Should I email someone who has not responded to my message or is too pushy? What jacked should I wear going for a walk: windbreaker or something warmer? Should I ask the neighbour to lower the sound of his music? Should I make my bed as soon as I wake up or later? Should I wash the dishes just after the meal or wait until later when they accumulate?  

After effects 

Making a decision is difficult and often exhausting, and after we made it, we may feel a sense of relief. However, it rarely lasts too long, and we change contemplating what decision to make, to worrying, was it the right one. We begin to oscillate between regret that committed an error and convincing oneself that it is OK. But even if we managed to soothe our doubts for a while, very often the regrets reappear. Let us return to the earlier example of buying the car and assume we purchased a new one. After enjoying some of its features such as shiny exterior, better acceleration, and less noise, we begin to examine closer our choice. We discover that we could, for some extra money, have better climatization, warning while we get too close to an obstacle, screen showing what is behind us, and so on. And we begin again to oscillate between regret and satisfaction.

Let us look at the after-effects of our decisions beyond what may happen after buying the car.  Here is another mega-event in our life: after a long deliberation, we finally decided to get married. As the married life progress, at the closer encounter, we discover that our new partner irritates us non-stop or has an entirely different taste as far as the food and the decoration of the house go, and these differences are irreconcilable. Of course, there can be many more reasons to begin deliberation that maybe it was a colossal mistake: for example, we discovered a supposedly better version of our partner. The same applies to the choice of study, work, the place to live, etc. Contemplating our decisions may cause that we convert our lives into the continual path of regrets and counter-regrets. Even if we successfully managed to convince ourselves that a decision was correct, underneath, there is a creepy filling that we could do better.

Eventually, we surrender and make the minor ones randomly or ignore then altogether. However, such macro-decision as the choice of a career or marriage/divorce with its consequences is impossible to push under the carpet – we sometimes regret till the end of the life or entering advanced senility/Parkinson disease, whichever come first.

To avoid or, at least, lessen the potential pain, we may try to share the responsibility for decisions by asking others such as family or friends for help. Still, it often ends up heated exchanging opinions and counter-opinion. As a result, we may also include a finger-pointing blame-game to the following regrets.

Can we do anything about it? 

A question arises: is there a strategy that may liberate us from all of that? Unfortunately, as long as we are attached to concepts and opinions concerning our economic and personal issues, inflicted upon us by the millennia of stratification, we cannot accomplish that fully. Most of the problems encountered before and during making our decision arise from our attachment to our economic and social views, which often are conflicting. 

However, we can make our emotional reactions both during the process of making decisions and afterwords less stressful. We can use Wisdom attitudes: Openness, Dignity, Patience, Joy of Action, Stability. As far as negative after-effects go, we use the same approach to our regret or anger at ourselves as we apply to the other negative emotions, that is, we realize that they are merely more energetic thoughts. After this realization, they dissolve into the state of the vivid restfulness of mind. It is discussed in more detail in earlier talks on Wisdom Training. They will most likely reappear again, and we should approach them the same way as before. Eventually, they become weaker and weaker, and gradually we forget about them or finally do something to correct the “wrong” decision. 

Collective decisions

So far, we have discussed only individual decisions. However, in many situations, decisions are also made by a group. For example, any kind of voting in political, business, or social situations is a form of a group decision. As we well know, the outcome of such decisions is often no better than made by individuals.

It seems to be surprising because, in numerous studies, it has been discovered that the use of collective-intelligence improves the quality of decision making. However, most of these studies were made in a selected environment, while the topics were not concerning their political beliefs or individual interests. Consequently, to make collective decision-making in real-life situations superior to individual ones, several conditions have to be identified and agreed upon by the whole group. These conditions include accepting that the purpose of the decision is the benefit of the entire group. The participants are experienced in the subject matter of the decision and, as much as they can, dis-attach themselves from their private beliefs and ideologies while opening themselves to others’ views. Finally, ideally, the decisions should be made unanimously. 

Fulfilling all those conditions can hardly be encountered during collective decisions made with our modern social structure, strongly stratified and supremely divisive. 

Decisions in Wisdom society

Individual decisions in Wisdom society do not disappear. However, their scope changes: they more concern the whole group rather than individuals. The latter’s importance lessens because of the desire for domination, many issues concerning private property and their implication and complications are gone. It does mean the ownership of the personal property disappears entirely, but it is reduced to objects pragmatically necessary. Furthermore,  many qualities that in the present society can only be accomplished via wealth or privileged position become common like the privacy of accommodation, access and choice of education and profession, forming and dissolving a partnership, etc.

Collective decisions concerning particular units of society like the nucleus, village, town, and so on are made directly by participants (nucleus) or unanimously selected representatives, are made consensual. 

Collective intelligence, which is present within decision-making, is nurtured by better communication and clarity result from practicing mind resting of Wisdom attitudes. It dissolves the energy of attachments to concepts resulting from stratification into openness, discernment and creativity. 

Since Wisdom Society, at this moment, exists only in the form of its vision, our decision making cannot wait until it becomes a reality. We have to make them all the time as well as we can. So here are a few parting suggestions. During the decision-making process, as much as possible, utilize mind resting to avoid impulsive emotionality.  Also, wisdom attitudes help with opening possibilities that we usually overlook, sharpening our discrimination and prevent impulsiveness.   Finally, wisdom practice may decrease the unwelcomed after-effects of decision, mainly regret.   

Conclusions 

Since Wisdom Society, at this moment, exists only in the form of its vision, our decision making cannot wait until it becomes a reality. We have to make them all the time as well as we can. So here are a few parting suggestions. During the decision-making process, as much as possible, utilize mind resting to avoid impulsive emotionality.  Also, wisdom attitudes help with opening possibilities that we usually overlook, sharpening our discrimination and prevent impulsiveness.   Finally, wisdom practice may decrease the unwelcomed after-effects of decision, mainly regret.

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