A conceptual look at decision making.

The key today is to understand WHY things have gotten so much more complicated today, and WHAT you as an individual can do about it. And more information won’t help us. Between Facebook, You Tube, Instagram, Twitter, Google, etc., etc, we are facing INFORMATION GLUT.

Rather, we need a way to interpret the information we already have coming at us from every direction, so that we can make sense of it.

The purpose of the following “checks” is to help you bound and simplify your decision making. They should be taken as “tools” like scissors, to help you cut and pair down your challenge areas. After reading the list, you may decide to adopt your own tools to help you navigate through the information glut we face today. But this basic set of rules is enough to get you started.

Major Check #1 – Your Dog Is Smarter Than You Are?

 Most of us have had the pleasure of tossing a dog bone into the grass in front of us, and watching our dog (or our friend’s dog) bound happily out to retrieve it. We may repeat this process quite a few times before the dog gets tired of retrieving it.

Likewise, we’ve seen dogs tear down the street after a squirrel or cat, futilely pursuing its “prey” up a tree, or even bound dangerously out into the street chasing a ball.

So, what is the point of dogs expending so much energy chasing balls they can’t eat, squirrels we won’t let them eat, or cats that swipe their muzzles and leave bloody scratches as they retreat with a whelp and a bruised ego?

Before answering that question, we have answer the following:

  • Why do some of us smoke for thirty years when we know we will likely end up dying of lung cancer?
  • Why do some of us drink to excess, and then end up with a DUI (if we’re lucky), because we think it only happens to other people?
  • Why do some people use crack, meth, amphitamenes, etc., when they know they may lose their jobs and/or families if they get caught?
  • Why do some of us charge our credit cards up to the max, knowing that we won’t be able to pay it all off?

Obviously our dogs may be smarter than we are, if on the whole, their behaviors are less risky than ours.

And most dogs know that they can wag their tails and cuddle their owners, not wet on the carpet, and bark if a stranger shows up the door, and their owners will care for them, and give them what they want. Which is a warm place to sleep, food and water everyday, and to go for a walk or play in the park from time to time.

Dogs are often better at getting their needs and wants satisfied than we are.

The point here is that we should expend our energies on those things that bring us closer to OUR GOALS, not closer to OUR GRAVES. When we do that, we show that we are at least as smart as our dogs. When we don’t, well…

Major Check #2 – Does This Violate Your Conscience?

God has given each of us a conscience.  The question is, does this violate your sense of right and wrong, justice, or ethical standards.  That should be the very first check for any decision.  Great or small.

Consulting a friend on this is equivalent to consulting THEIR conscience.  And consideration should be given as to their interests, and to whether or not they will have to live with the decision, after it is made.

If you’re not sure, then there is a problem.  Most likely, the decision should be part off, or another road taken.  Some actions we cannot take back, and it would be better to defer a significant decision, than to make a really bad, possibly life altering choice.

Major Check #3 – Is This Rocket Science?

The average American spends twelve years in grade school, and two years in College. About one third of us spend at least four years in college (and obtained a Bachelors Degree), and about twelve percent of us get at least a Masters Degree.

Today, the unemployment rate in this country is 4.6%. During the peak of the crash of 2008, it was little more than 8%.

Most of us have prepared enough to get and maintain some kind of gainful employment.

However, the average American spends zero years in pre-marital counseling, and zero years training for parenthood. So, what is the result of this obvious lack of preparation?

Well, today’s divorce rate is more than 50%. And, just as bad or worse, our kids are lagging behind most of the rest of the world in math and science. Obviously, a little more preparation for everyday life might be in order.

As this example illustrates, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure most things out. If you don’t prepare for something, you’re likely to fail at it.

As of this writing, this country has seen a serious uptick in mass murders by single gunmen. The list is too long to list, but they include the Florida Airport murders, the Orlando Nightclub murders, the South Carolina church shooting, and a number of school shootings, including the Newtown school shooting.

While society continues to ponder the merits or demerits of better Psychological screening and counseling, nothing is done, and the body count rises.

Its not rocket science. Society is not dealing with the problem of mentally ill people with weapons, and people are dying because of it. And to continue to cling to the fiction that radicalized people who are ready to commit mass murder don’t suffer from a form of mental illness, well…

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out either.

Major Check #4 – The “Expert” Really Is?

 Despite the fact that most things are NOT rocket science, we are conditioned to believe that we must rely on experts to tackle even the most trivial of challenges. And, not only is today’s world filled with such experts, we have been conditioned from an early age to give great weight to their opinions. To believe that these people in authority know much more about the subject than we do, even if we don’t understand their explanations. This indeed was the case for decades when expert researchers discovered cures for Polio, unlocked the secrets of the atom, and built rockets to send astronauts to the moon. But something happened in the last few years that changed all that. The “standards for becoming an expert have precariously dropped, and many contemporary “experts” have shaky credentials and limited experience.

Recently I discovered the qualifications for becoming a private investigator in the state of Maryland. Basically, you fill out a form, get someone, maybe a friend, in law enforcement to sign it, and you become a private investigator.  You become an “instant expert”.

If you want to become a Pastor, there are number of web sites you can visit that will provide you with ordination papers. You just fill out some paperwork, and pay them a fee, and you are ordained. You can then provide spiritual counseling to millions, or at least as many who will follow you without checking up on your credentials and experience.

Of course, not all of the experts we follow are human.

A recent phenomenon has emerged the last few years of having Siri do your homework. In fact, there are instructions online telling students how they can best employ Siri to do all of their homework for them. Obviously, this is not the best way for someone to develop their brain function and reasoning faculties!

More tragically, a woman in Brazil put an address into her GPS, and followed the directions exactly. The GPS led her into a drug infested area, where she was killed by gang rival gunfire.

Another woman followed her GPS into the desert, where she ran out of gas, and later died. In fact, there is now a new “term” called “death by GPS” that’s been added to the language to describe the phenomenon of people dying after they blindly followed GPS instructions.

When we blindly follow the directions of any authority, just because they are an accepted “expert” in their field, we can sometimes end up very dead.

And in most cases, Check #3 applies anyway. Most things are not rocket science.

Major Check #5 – Is Less More?

 In a world of information glut, it might seem counter intuitive to believe that it is possible to have too much information. In fact, we are conditioned to believe that the more information we have, the better we will be able to address the problem. Sadly, this simply isn’t true.

What matters is not the wealth of information, but the RELEVANCE of the information. In today’s world, we can find ourselves DROWNING in irrelevant information. The result is that we make the WRONG choices, because we thought that more information meant better choices.

I once spent months researching professional video cameras. Even though I liked the work-horse camera I had, and it had served me well, I wanted to make sure I did my homework before buying a professional high definition camera. I read every article I could, and weighed every option before making a final selection. The cameras I selected were highly rated. A number of critics praised them for their extreme versatility. After using them awhile however, I found that they were much more complicated to operate. So much so, that my wife refused to work with them at all. I had made the wrong choice. Basically, a sea of irrelevant information on features I didn’t really need led me to make an expensive mistake. More information does not always lead to better choices.

A similar contradiction exists with options. Crazy right? How could it POSSIBLY be bad to have a lot of options? The more options you have, the better your choice in the end, right?

When I was in High School I worked as a shoe salesman. We had hundreds of shoes, and I knew that the more shoes I showed a customer, the more sales I could close. However, I soon found almost all of my customers walking out of the store without buying any shoes. Worse, I wasted a lot of time with these customers. And the customers went home without new shoes. My manager soon showed me that the key to making sales was to size up customers (who often didn’t know what they wanted), and pulled out two appropriate shoes to show them. They usually liked one over the other, and I closed the sale pretty quickly. And they left the store happy as well.

Not yet convinced? How about the fact that most college students who declare their major their freshman year and stick with it, end up graduating in four years. The ones who keep their options open through their sophomore years, enjoying the freedom of having many options? Most of them never graduate, though a few scrape through in six years (and many thousands more in debt).

It simply DOESN’T PAY to keep your options too wide open.

Though it seems like a contradiction, it is often true that less is more.

Major Check #6 – Did You Just Turn South? (Expecting To Go North)

 A comedian I heard a few years ago was making fun of some of the dichotomies of the English Language. He asked:

“Why do we park on driveways, and drive on parkways?”

I have some of my own, like why do we call “Health Insurance”, “Health Insurance”, when its really “Life Insurance”, cause most of us don’t use it until we get sick.

And why do we call “Football”, “Football”, instead of “pass ball”, or “carry ball?” Or maybe even, “Leather Ball”.   It makes sense to call “Soccer” “Football”, but we call it “Soccer”.

Finally, I’ve always wondered why we call “Firemen”, “Firemen”, instead of “Water Men” or something. I mean, we don’t call policemen “CrookMen, or “Thugmen”. Then there’s the Mailman, which sounds doubly sexist and redundant.

We get so used to the contradictions and oddities of life, that we no longer recognize them as such. The fact is that life requires us to parse our decision making if we are going to get the results we need.

So, let’s ask ourselves some questions related to this:

  • Why do many women who say they want to settle down and marry a nice guy, start of by dating one bad boy after another?
  • Why do people who say they want to save for and buy a nice home continue to buy one new car after another, putting themselves deeper and deeper into debt?
  • Why do people spend $120K on a four year University degree that only pays $45K per year when they graduate? Effectively placing themselves in hock for life?

No matter how hard we try, we will never go North by turning South.

If where we are trying to get to is north of where we are, then we need to make deliberate plans to move in that direction.

Major Check #7 – Free Counsel Is Worth Every Penny?

 The world is full of counselors. Counselors are like experts, except that most of them are actually qualified to be counselors. The issue with counselors is not their qualifications. The issue with counselors is their agendas. Their interests are not always yours.

The college counselor who was told that a new research program at the University is in need of more “volunteer” researchers. Or a new program needs more students to justify its existence. So you suddenly find yourself with a major that doesn’t fit, and a lot more “volunteer” work on your hands.

Or the church counselor that tells you that “work is therapy”, because they have a new church program that needs a lot more free help. It doesn’t address your problems, but it sure does solve hers, since she now has a reduced workload.

The Bible says that there is “…safety in a multitude of counselors.” It says this for a reason. Because, sometimes a single counselor may lead you off a cliff.

Major Check #8 – You Got What You Came For?

 Have you ever had the experience of purchasing something at the cash register, and inadvertently leaving one of the bags at the counter? Maybe you purchased four bags of groceries, and mistakenly left one at the counter. Hopefully, you caught yourself, and were able run back into the store before the next shift change. Otherwise you might be facing a clerk that had no recollection of your having left anything you purchased there.

Years ago, I remember shopping for a car at a Ford Dealership. I informed my uncle that worked there that I intended to purchase a Ford Mustang, because I had always dreamed of owning one. Through four years of college, it kept me going from one exam and assignment to the next. However, my uncle decided that I needed to settle down some. He kept pressing me to buy a Thunderbird instead, which would reflect a more professional image.   He told me that the Thunderbird, being on sale, was the more reasonable purchase for the moment. I could trade it in for a Mustang sometime later. After several hours of debating the purchase, I drove off the lot with a new Thunderbird instead. Of course, I woke up the next day realizing that my years long dream of owning a Mustang would be put off a few years. What I didn’t know was, it died that day. I would never own a sports car again.

 Regardless of the merits of Mustang dreams, I failed to get what I came for. I allowed myself to be distracted by what SOMEONE ELSE, with their own agenda, who left the transaction having their objectives fulfilled, at my expense. I let my sense of obligation to my uncle, an authority in my life, rob me of four years of dreams. I would never allow that to happen again in life.

Major Check #9 – What Happens When “Some Day” Comes?

 Our sense of time today is all messed up. People tear down the highway and risk their lives (and the lives of others) to make it to the mall two minutes earlier. When they get home, they’ve gotten a notice saying they are two weeks late on their car payment.

We always seem to be too much in a hurry for the trivial stuff, and in too little of a hurry on the critical things. And yet most of us give little thought to these inconsistencies in our lives.

However, I believe the biggest cultural oddity in America today is the monster emphasis on short term thinking. Very few people today do much planning for the next ten, twenty, or thirty years.

There is a cruel calculus to some basic points to be made here. But it works pretty much like this. If you don’t get some training in your twenties, you probably won’t be making more money in your thirties. If you don’t settle down with someone nice in your twenties, you probably won’t be happily married in your thirties either. If you don’t work hard at your career in your thirties, you probably won’t be making a lot of money in your forties. And it you don’t put money away for retirement, you will likely be working at McDonald’s in your sixties.

And some day has a way of happening, some day.

Major Check #10 – Your Turn

Here is where you can insert your own tools, should you wish to. Or, you can wait until you “practice” with the basic set above. Adding or subtracting to your personal taste.


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