The title from today's post is that old question from movies and tv, 'should I cut the red wire or the blue wire'. Usually one sets off the bomb and the other disarms it (Note: as an undergrad I and my theater major room mate talked this one over and decided that if we ever write this scene all the wires are going to be the same color...). Sorry to disappoint the NSA watch dogs (and a few teenage boys) this blog post is really about choices, not bombs (or scene writing). How do we make choices; how do we deal with the consequences of them; and what if we want more than one thing?
First, blind or considered choicesOk, so first lets go for how we make choices. There are lots of factors that go into making choices (whole books worth actually); I am going to stick to one for right now, blind versus considered choices. Using our red wire blue wire scenario you could just choose a color on impulse and go. That would be one form of a blind choice. You put no thought into it you just choose one and go (with a 50-50 chance of blowing yourself away!). Other options would be to try to trace the wires to components, call someone who knows more than you do about bombs, or for you religious types pray for guidance (I know, kinda the same as the call a friend option but I three is a good number...) and then choose a wire and cut it. This would be what I call a considered choice; you took some time to get some information to guide you in what to choose and or what the consequences of a choice will be.
I myself prefer the considered choice but there is a time for both (if the timer on your bomb is at five seconds you don't have a lot of time to chat (or trace wires)...). Now here's where this gets funny, sometimes it looks like someone's making a blind choice but they really aren't. Experience can help you make the choice faster. (Non exploding example) If the soda fountain has Coke and Pepsi products I probably won't be spending a lot of time comparing the relative merits of regular or diet, or Coke or Pepsi. I go straight for the Diet Dr Pepper because It's my favorite. It's not a blind choice it's one I already know the answer to. If the Diet Dr Pepper is out, then I really do have to spend a bit more time thinking about it.
Second, consequencesOk, second factor: the consequences of our choices...
It's been said that you can make choices but you can't choose the consequences of the choice. Well, that's true part of the time, kind of. All choices have consequences, and the rule of "no takesy backsy" does apply. Once you make a choice you take the consequences that come with it; however, remember that considered choice thing? If you stop and think about the choices you make before you make them you have some control over the consequences you receive. If you just blindly choose a soda flavor you get the flavor you get. If you get one you don't like you could pour it out and get another, but that's another choice with it's own consequences. If you stop, look at the flavors and choose the one you like then you get a positive result the first time (unless something goes wrong).
This factor also has complications in that we can't see all the factors or predict all of the consequences of a choice. The flavor you want may be out, there may be no pattern at all to the color of the wires, the power could fail and render the expected outcomes of both examples moot. We can't completely know what the consequences of our choices are until they happen, but when we make a considered choice we are better able to predict what the consequences will be. When we stop and think we can make a choice that has a better chance to give us an outcome we want.
Third, multiple desired outcomesThis leads us to the next complication... what if we want more than one outcome. This actually happens and can be paralyzing because we have to choose between two things we want, or are equally drawn to. There is a word for this: Ambivalence (yep it really means that we are equally drawn between two or more choices and not that we don't care). I'm actually going to back off this one for right now because ambivalence and how to deal with it does have whole books written about it (I could include it all now but I don't choose to bore anyone to death). For now be aware that we can be really stuck (ambivalent) and it can take some real thought, soul searching, study and good old fashioned advice and help to get us out (by the way advice and help are among the reasons there are whole books written about this trying to affect another person's choice can have all kinds of unforeseen consiquences (That's part of why I'm backing off this for now))
There is a lot more to this topic and I will probably be coming back to it from time to time. For today the take home message is that we have the capacity to influence what happens in our lives by the choices we make. That means learning to make considered choices and really looking at what the options, and consequences, are before we do things. The good news is as we learn we get better at it. By the way if there's five seconds to go before the bomb goes off choose the green wire ("But Patrick all the wires are purple!" Well, you're on your own then!). Sorry there aren't any pretty pictures this time.