Decisions require making decisions

‘Just tell me yes or no.”

The man is trying to sell me on his company’s services, but his words surprisingly transcend the moment and populate my mind to a completely unrelated situation.

 A friend of mine is wrestling with a big decision in his life. For him the choice before him is large and with heavy implications. But the decision — any decision — must be made. Choices sit before him; the status quo, however, is already decided.

“Just tell me, yes or no,” the words echo in my mind.

As many of us learn the hard way, putting off a decision rarely improves the situation we face. If anything, delaying making a decision is generally a result of us not giving the decision the careful attention it deserves. Big decisions require both deep and broad thought. But they also require a commitment by us to make a decision in a timely manner.

Making a decision is a process — not outcome. And most of us learn this lesson comes via the school of hard knocks. Keeping score is worthless; taking the lesson forward is the real value. The outcome, as you shape this practice, become secondary.

Most of us, myself included, carry a natural desire to avoid making uncomfortable decisions. Making a decision — the stress of assessing the potential result of your decision — is painful. The unknown, the straining to see a future you cannot accurately predict, simply invites discomfort.

But what we learn early on in developing the skills to make better decisions is to factor in the cost of not making a decision. We try to tell ourselves we’re avoiding the pain of the unknown. But the reality is we are discounting the value of how delaying a decision is eroding or endangering the present. If we’re faced with a decision, there is generally a reason. Avoiding a decision only damages the value or potential of either choice.

The school of hard knocks visits me on regular basis. As a matter of fact, I might hold a master’s degree as a result of the time spent in the virtual classrooms I’ve put myself in over the years.

Making decisions, I learned along the way, is holding myself accountable to making the call by a certain point — whether it be a point in time, after gathering enough information, or simply when my gut signs on. But I’ve learned I’ll never have all the time I want, all the information I want, or be fully comfortable inside my gut. At some point you’ve got to make a call and allow your instincts to lead you forward.

The best-kept secret in the decision process is the freeing feeling of moving forward. And from that point you can be assured there will be another decision should the first not turn out as you planned. And this, we learn, is the first step in truly moving forward.

And it all starts with learning to say either “yes or no.”

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New Media Leaves Old World Standards Behind

 

According to a popular post on social media this week, the Powerball jackpot carried the potential to eliminate poverty in the United States.

“$1.2 billion dollars divided by 300 million people = $4 million per person,” said the post.

With bold letters, the social media message found itself being shared around the world. Thousands and thousands of people read and circulated the post – seemingly perpetuating a ‘feel good’ moment of perceived clarity.

Problem is, the math was wrong. The actual distribution would be $4 before taxes – roughly what I’d dropped at the local coffee shop earlier that day.

As a matter of fact, when I strolled into my local grocery store on Wednesday to purchase my entry, the clerk repeated the very same sentence nearly verbatim. I smiled politely, choosing not to rain on her excitement, and chalked up yet another victory for the increasing deterioration of media credibility.

While I consider it important to declare I am a member of the media, I also am a citizen of the world. The credibility of information is critical to each of us making informed decisions. My reliance on accurate information can even influences my decisions on where to eat lunch or which ice cream purchase in the frozen food aisle.

Once upon a time the world of media consumption was rather limited in scope. Three television channels, a daily newspaper or two, and a couple radio stations on the dial. But in reality, there were multiple levels on internal standards in which content was filtered to ensure information was vetted. Getting it right was more important than being first.

But in today’s world, broadly speaking, the standards are increasingly fluid – impacted by the economics of capturing eyeballs as quickly as possible and the dilution of what actually qualifies as news or valuable information. The digital age may very well be ushering in an age of marginal content.

Maybe President Abraham Lincoln said it best when he proclaimed, “half the information in the Internet is false; the hard part if figuring out which half it is.”*

The other day a friend shared an image of two groups of people staring into their hands. The black and white photo was taken outside a train station in the 1940’s; the second could’ve been taken snapped this morning. In the first, people are reading newspapers; in the second they are engrossed in the tiny screens of their phones.

It does not take too much of a leap to imagine the difference in quality of content being digested by those in each photos. In the first, descriptions of troop movement across the European theater might be reported. In the second photo, the readers might very well be updating their status or finding out another star (or starlet) is grabbing attention through mindless antics.

I’d never be one to say we should expect to blindly trust the validity of content pushed out by media, but checking our work (or math) would be a good start

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* source: popular social media meme.  

 

 

 

 

 

Faith In Faith Key to Surviving Life

Faith, I realize, does not mean you will always get what you want. Rather, faith is understanding, while you may not like the immediate outcome, there may be a larger picture you are unable to see or appreciate at the moment.

Children see the world in clear, uncomplicated terms. If they believe in Santa, he will bring them a toy. If they believe and say their prayers at bedtime, God will keep them safe at night. Faith, to them, is an “action equals reaction” formula.

As adults, the world reveals itself as more layered, more difficult place to predict. The simple cause and effect formula of our actions become increasing blurred. Our faith, whether in God or ourselves, requires a deeper understanding of what is truly important to us.

This thought crossed my mind over dinner with a good friend whose wife is currently in her second round of battling cancer. As we sat there, you would never have known there was anything amiss in their world. Cheerful, laughing, and thrilled to be together, you would’ve thought they were on the receiving end of a Powerball ticket rather than having spent the day with doctors pouring over opinions and reports.

But nonetheless, they share faith – faith in God, faith each other, faith in their place in the world.

We all share difficult chapters in life – episodes inviting us to question the depth of our faith. Events such as the sudden loss of a loved one, a job, or getting a diagnosis of cancer making a unwelcome return as my friend’s wife is experiencing.

My mother died unexpectedly when I was a teenager. Going in to the hospital for a simple procedure, she never returned. My faith in everything was rocked — rocked with anger, rocked with confusion, rocked venomous questions about fairness. No wish or faith in my post-childhood world could resolve my mother’s death.

And as a result, I became darker, confused, and at times seemingly rudderless in a young adult world.

But the one thing that never abandoned me was faith’s faith in me — if that makes any sense. As much as I pushed away or lashed out, the world absorbed the anger, allowing me time to mature, heal, and to better understand the true value of the lesson before me.

Over time I began to understand the value was not what I’d lost, but rather what I’d received while she was around. And my faith in those lessons, those moments, would serve as the seeds of who I become as an adult.

I’ll admit the road I traveled was long, both in time and spirit. In some ways, it may never end. But my understanding of faith, the slow and unpredictable revealing of wisdom and meaning, is unwavering. Understanding there is something beyond the horizon we can see in the moment is a powerful lesson. Be it God or other, faith is trusting there is a wisdom behind the events we experience and leading us to better appreciate those around us.

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Zombies Walk Among Each Of Us

Yesterday I unexpectedly walked up on a zombie. Well, not an actually, no-blood-coursing-through-the-veins or hungry-to-snack-on-my-insides variety, but a zombie all the same.

Standing in the center of the canned vegetable aisle of a local grocery store, a woman numbly stared into small screen of her cellphone. Her eyes, casting a single mindedness onto her virtual world, effectively shut out her surrounding world. Others, maybe a shopper looking to pick up a couple cans of green beans or stewed tomatoes, uncomfortably flowed around her much like water rushing around an arrogant boulder staking out the prime real estate of a mountain stream.

What, I wondered, could be so important to completely sever her connection to the world and people around her? How far removed from her surroundings was she? What power could suck the life out of her awareness to the world existing outside her small screen?

Today we seem to be experiencing a mass affliction to mass distraction.

According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Americans own a cell phone (October 2014); 67% of all American cell phones are smartphones. The gap between our authentic reality and self-designed virtual reality is quickly closing.

Furthermore, the research finds nearly 7 out of 10 people regularly check their phones unprompted by a vibration or sound. If you account for the fact our brains release a small taste of the pleasurable and addictive dopamine with each virtual encounter, our growing collective addiction more clearly comes into focus.

Our virtual worlds are wonderful places to visit. We download apps designed to bring us only what we desire (news feeds, social media contact, games, etc.) while blocking out the obtrusive and unpleasant features of the real world. In our digital life we are able to create the ultimate vanity show – one written, directed, and produced by our favorite talent: us. Flattering photos, insightful quips, or shared affiliations flesh out the blank or shallow spots in our public persona.

And as the diversity of media voices expand in quantity and accessibility, an unintended conditioning becomes possible as we gravitate towards to like-minded opinions or viewpoints. The discerning of wide variety of information, thoughts, or experiences becomes dull from lack of use. Having a discussion in an echo chamber, one where shared opinions are everywhere, is generally a more pleasant experience (send more dopamine, please) but not necessarily intellectually healthy exercise.

Which brings me back to the increasing legions of zombies trolling the world today. Are they, in some clinical sense, dependent on a self-administered drug or stimuli? Does their increasing dependence, much like any other addict, create a social isolation while all the while creating a virtual reality to their liking?

The woman in the grocery aisle never saw me walk past. Nor did she see the beautiful little girl tagging along behind her mother. And she never saw the two friends greeting each other over by the cans of creamed corn.

No, zombie life is different. I only hope we can find a cure.

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