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Of choices, options and decisions

Lagrimas Perdio .

WE never pay too much attention to how our lives flow from day to day.

For many of us, we don’t seem to realize that life is a never-ending series of making up our minds about things. And if we were to get deeply philosophical, where we are and who we are today–each of us–is due in great part to the choices we have made. Good decision-making is a very necessary life skill that we will never be good at if we don’t make a conscious effort at it.

It sounds so simple. Just a matter of picking one thing over another. But it’s not. Because of the nature of us human beings to want to work things out in our favor, we don’t want to be conscious of the factors that come into play when we make decisions. Yes, there are those tiny choices we make everyday that we don’t even know we’ve made. What foot to put a shoe on first, what hand to use when brushing our teeth, blowing on our coffee because it’s just a bit too hot, tossing the candy wrapper out of the car window. Certain things that have become such habits that we do them without much conscious thought.

But then there are the big ones. The ones that keep us awake at night, that stress us out because we don’t seem to know what to do. The hard ones. And as human beings, we are good at justifying why the choices are so hard, why it’s difficult to prioritize our options, why we can’t commit to making that final decision.

What we are not aware of are the moral forces pulling us from opposite poles. Let me posit a hypothesis. What if I tell you that all decisions could be boiled down to two, only two, elemental factors? Sounds ridiculous, right? Not as ridiculous as one might think. All decisions are affected by (1) what is right and (2) what we want. That’s really all the factors that there are. And the closer these two factors are to each other, the easier the decision. When what we want and what the right thing to do are pretty much on the same track, we can make that decision with our eyes closed, pretty much. It’s when these two factors start to veer away from each other that we find ourselves in a dilemma.

Because we are the flawed creatures that we are, we will always tend to gravitate towards what we want. But the further away it is from what is right, the bigger the discomfort. I suppose this is because somewhere deep down inside our very core, we know what we ought to do. Philosophers have always contended that man knows the difference between right and wrong, and that’s what sets us apart from the lowly beasts. Yet our instinct for greed and selfishness will always lead us to hold on tightly to the things that we want. And that’s where the conflict lies. When we are unable to let go of what we want so we can reach for what is right.

This is where the journey to denial begins. In our desire to make ourselves comfortable with making the wrong decision, our brain will begin to make a list of reasons. Reasons why the choice we are making is the right one, reasons why our options are prioritized in a certain way. Let me present a concrete example. Let’s say that you have agreed to do a certain job for a specific period of time for a specific salary. That’s usually called a commitment. And let’s say that this job is a part of an organizational structure that is dependent on each of the jobs working in harmony.

Now let’s say that for reasons of outside pressure, you are being made to feel that your job is insignificant, especially because it doesn’t pay much. Or worse, that your job makes you an inferior type of person. And let’s say that an opportunity has arisen for you to apply for another job that pays more than twice what you currently make. Then let’s say that in the process of applying for this other job, you are asked if you are currently employed. And in your desire to be considered for this job, you lie and say no. And in so doing, you negate the commitment you have made. And then one day you get that eagerly awaited yet dreaded call that you’ve been hired and have to report for work the following Monday.

Up to this point, you have said nothing to your employer nor your co-workers about having sought employment elsewhere, simply because you know that you’ve committed to doing your job for a set period of time. And now the crisis begins. The sleepless nights, the nail-biting, the headaches, the dread of being found out. And the list-making begins as well. That list of all the reasons why the choice to do the wrong thing is the right choice.

What most of us don’t consciously realize is that situations like this test our character. Would we opt to do what is right? Or would we opt to do what we want? Sadly, in most cases, we will opt to do what we want. And all those reasons (excuses, actually) that make it on our list as to why the choice we are making is the right one only exist to make it easier to live with ourselves. After all, what person in their right mind would be willing to stare at themselves in the mirror each morning knowing that they made the less ethical choice, the unprofessional choice, the choice to do wrong?

In the end, there is only the simple truth: that choices get hard only when we know it’s the wrong one. There is never any reason to justify doing the right thing. No need for lists or excuses. When the choice is the right thing to do, it is as natural as breathing. So pay attention to yourself. The next time you are faced with a difficult decision and find yourself looking for reasons to justify your choice, take a step back and ask yourself why you need all those reasons. And then surprise yourself by doing the right thing.

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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