A month before I graduated high school a good friend and I went to see Rush in concert.
It is one of my favorite shows and that is in spite of the three car pile-up we were in after the show.
Some of it is because we were in the middle car, no one was injured and it wasn’t our fault. But most of it was because we were 18 and it gave us the perfect opportunity to talk about the meaning Rush’s song Free Will.
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose free will
Free will is always a big deal, but when you are 18 and about to go off to college the magnitude of being able to make your own choices feels enormous.
Between your parents, teachers and friends there is enormous pressure to make sure you make the right choice because if you don’t, well you’re doomed.
Fortunately that is not how things were presented to me growing up but it is what I heard from many others and what I still hear.
If you make a bad choice you’ll screw yourself forever.
Granted there always have been some decisions that are life altering and not always in the most positive of ways, but the bad ones aren’t always as bad as some people make them out to be.
How To Never Make A Bad Choice
I remember a scary moment in college when my girlfriend told me she was really late and wondered if we were going to have to make a big decision.
Almost 30 years later the almost big decision is nothing more than a good story and I am grateful for that but I remember how I vowed to be smarter.
I told myself I could figure out how to never make a bad choice. All I had to do was use logic and science to help me make decisions that would lead to perfect or at least very good outcomes.
In spite of my best efforts the choices I have made haven’t always worked out as well as I had hoped.
They haven’t been complete failures or all shining successes but a mix of the two and a whole lot of in between.
It hasn’t been for lack of effort either, I have tried to be diligent about being smart, prudent and precise about them.
But I am human and I am sure there have been moments where emotion influenced what I did.
Humans Are Irrational
This is a blog post and not a scientific treatise so I am not going to fill your heads with all of the science behind that.
I’ll say that it is in line with my experience and I’ll share a link to a Washington Post interview that supports this.
It is with the author behind Dilbert and is about why Donald Trump will become president.
Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90-percent irrational and acts accordingly.”
Adams adds: “People vote based on emotion. Period.”
There is a lot of truth to that and throughout my life I have seen that the best way to avoid making dumb choices is to stay calm.
It is also the best way to win an argument.
Sometimes win the kids try to tell me about how different life is now from what it was before I’ll pull out that Aristotle quote or the one by Lao Tzu about how the best fighter is never angry.
It is not to prove how erudite I am or am not but to demonstrate that certain traits and characteristics have always been around.
Chalk it up the good old human condition, emotion will always be part of us and consequently it will influence our choices.
That doesn’t mean it is bad either, it just means it is part of being human.
It is also part of why we continually search for explanations about life and for help in making hard choices.
What I find funny is how sometimes two different groups of people look to the stars for answers and come back with their own conclusions about whether science or faith should guide us.
You can say I am biased but parents agonize over making the right choice more than most people.
Those of us who are serious about being good fathers and mothers look at our kids and ask ourselves if the choices we make today will help little Johnny and Sally grow up to become the best people they could possibly be.
Or by choosing X instead of Y are we dooming them to a life of misery and despair.
Surely there is a middle ground between those two, but the joy of parenting often obscures it.
But the Deepak Chopra quote above sure goes a long way to alleviating some of that pressure now doesn’t it.
Twenty-nine years ago I didn’t sit around thinking about the accident after the concert as being anything other than just dumb luck and I haven’t changed my thoughts about it since.
The difference between then and now is as a father I do spend more time wondering if my choices will help or hinder my kids.
And I spend some time thinking about what sorts of tools and resource might exist for helping me with my decision making process.
Mystic & Science
A few months ago I sat in a terminal at DFW waiting to catch my flight and I listened to a couple of people debate whether it was more important to be religious or spiritual.
Until this moment I had forgotten about the conversation and how another Deepak Chopra quote might have given them some more food for thought.
I am not an expert on Deepak Chopra or the things he says.
I haven’t read the book that I pulled those two quotes from and only discovered them when I went looking for some other material.
But they fit the post and hopefully add some depth and another layer to this.
And if you know me well you know I always do the gut check on the big decisions in life.
I always close my eyes and try to figure out how I feel about something.
Am I excited, nervous, angry or upset and if so, why?
Does my heart skip a beat because I think it is going to be amazing or because I am afraid I am being stupid.
My guide/philosophy is ultimately pretty simple.
There is no magic pill or solution here. We do the best we can with the information we have at the we have it and then we go forward.
It works for me and that is good enough for now.