The Building Blocks of Choice
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | December 2016
Our actions spur from much more than conscious intention. Impulses formed from childhood and society push and prevent action. We need a healthy blend of hidden wisdom and conscious evaluations.
Which way do I go, which way do I go? Life pushes us in multiple directions; opportunities, relationships, investments beg for our limited stash of resources. We can’t do everything; we must make choices. It’s not simple choices between right over the wrong, but choices between different alternatives. Most decisions have both positive and negative characteristics. Without a crystal ball, we must rely on wisdom, and choose, choice, narrowing our path and concentrating on a precise direction.
We never will know how paths not chosen would have materialized, leaving options behind may leave us queasy, but we can’t choose them all. Uncertainty stirs anxiety, increasing the difficulty of choosing. We worry about missing out on unchosen paths, so we postpone, never committing. Opportunities usually demand more than a curious pondering, without commitment, the moment passes and the opportunity fades, eliminating the need to choose. We lose prospective partners, employments and experiences through the fear of indecision. By failing to choose, we submit to fate, drifting down the path beckoning the loudest. Our magnificent brain prioritizes and propels us forward, often in the right direction; but not always. We instinctively know many things, gathering wisdom through experience, responding appropriately without much thought. Conscious thought, at times, even interferes. Something feels right; and only later do we discover the genius of the intuition.
However, intuition is not always the answer. Life is infinitely more complex. The blinding intuitions driven by unbridled passions need to be curbed, guided and sometimes resisted. With maturity, we recognize many dangers hidden in the impulses. The flourishing person must balance her intuiting inner pulls with a complimentary cerebral examination.
For some, volatile pasts taint their view and sour their reactions; the world appears dangerous—often for good reasons. New relationships (that are not dangerous) still spark fear; the past stubbornly bleeding into the present. The immediate intuitive reaction might be to run or construct protective walls, limiting experience. Others, confused by the past, recklessly abandon caution and continue to engage in stupidity, damaging futures that could have been improved.
Through a careful examination of our lives, we discover many dangerous impulses. We instinctively reach for our phone when it beeps, even if driving on a congested freeway—a dangerous impulsive reaction. The unviewed or unanswered text message continually yanks at our attention until we yield. The impulse is wrong. Grabbing the bottle every time we are frustrated or worried is a dangerous impulse with lasting impact. The impulse is wrong.
"For some, volatile pasts taint their view and sour their reactions; the world appears dangerous—often for good reasons."
Our lives playout in a complex bundle of instinctive reactions, intuitions that we justify with faulty logic, never uncovering the hidden motivations. We shouldn’t over worry our predicament; history has shown that despite all the imperfections of thought, our brains serve the species well.
The belief of a grand possession of an infallible compass appeals to our needs for security. An objective examination of personal experience reveals that some intuitions reward handsomely while others muck up our lives, leading down disastrous dusty roads. Even unbiased, uneducated choices are occasionally right—the broken clock is spot on twice a day. We must concede that either our ability to distinguish between righteous impulses stemming and physical temptations is lacking, or the touted perfect guidance system isn’t quite perfect. I tend to believe the latter.
We stumble through an unpredictable world; yet we can make enough sense of the chaos, creating connections of cause and effect, to formulate plans, spark reactions, and encourage thoughtful investigations. We make errors in the process, drawing wrong conclusions but respond with enough right choices to survive and for many to even flourish. Starting with simple instincts, we develop expertise in living by learning from the joys and the pains, absorbing lessons from parents and society, promoting refined skills that improve management of our biological, psychological, and sociological impulses.
Our individual constellation of empathy, compassion, security, self-confidence, successes, failures, knowledge, experiences, beliefs, hope, and fears (to name a few) all factor into impulses and decisions. Over-simplified judgments of good and evil overlook the complex and often hidden ingredients of choice. There’s no simple path to skirt around and dodge the complexity. True change requires more than a single choice but by inspecting the underlying building blocks that motivates our impulses and subsequent choices.
The work of change is slow and tedious; but lives can transform. We can experience more richness, happiness and intimacy. We are not condemned to follow tedious and destructive trajectories. Quietly and patiently, we move forward in gratitude, with improved choices and tempered impulses. New blessings grace our lives, reassuring with a gentle peace, and testifying to our hearts that all is well, we are on the correct path.