Sometimes when I am at a loss for something to write about, I turn to “The Book of Questions” by Gregory Stock, PH.D. I open it at random (or my best approximation of random because I’ve opened it so many times that some pages come up more often than others) and see if the question inspires me. Today the question was “You are leading 100 people whose lives are in danger and you must choose between two courses of action. One would save only 90 people; the other would have a 50% chance of saving everyone but were it to fail everyone would die. Which would you choose?” That would be a very hard choice for me to make. I think it would be a hard choice for just about anyone, really.
I’m not much of a gambler1 and I tend to choose the “sure thing” whenever I can. Of course, intellectually I know that there are very few “sure things.” But the idea that there might be is somewhat comforting none the less. The problem with this particular question for me is that it states I am leading these people, because my first tendency would be to take a vote. I’ll have to guess that’s not allowed within the parameters of the question. But choosing the sure thing in this case would mean condemning 10 people to death. I don’t think I could do that. I could never really be a leader or a general or the President of the United States (like that was ever an option).
Luckily, most of us are never really faced with this sort of life and death decision. But we are called upon to make some hard choices in our lives even so. Some choices are harder than others for me than they might be for you. For instance, you may have no doubt that what you need is the top of the line, most expensive truck out there and that it is a good idea to spend the extra money to get one. I would probably worry about it for days if not weeks … maybe months. Regardless, choices can still vex us. At the root, I think, is the desire to do things as perfectly as possible. But perfection is like the sure thing … ain’t really no such animal.
I had to make a hard choice a while back (I’m lucky that the really hard choices in my life are few). I could either have driven for about seven hours, stayed in a motel one or maybe two nights, and driven seven hours home again all so I could go to my cousin’s funeral (I absolutely hate funerals). Or I could have driven for about a half an hour to go ride in a horse show and then spend the entire day with horses and horse people (I absolutely loved doing that.) Seemed simple on the outside … choose to do what you like or choose to do what you don’t like. Do the right thing or do what you think is the right thing. I thought the right thing to do was to go to the funeral, but I really wanted to go to the horse show. It was tearing me up inside. Finally, I talked with my deceased cousin’s wife and made the decision to go to the horse show. But it was a couple of weeks before I came to terms with what I had done and the choice I had made. And maybe I still really haven’t forgiven myself for not doing the right thing for me. It’s been a number of years and here I am writing about it and still thinking about it.
Sometimes a hard choice is simply what to fix for dinner or what to wear to work the next day. It all depends … how many options do you have (always seems to me that the fewer options the better2). And it doesn’t matter if the issue is seemingly frivolous or weighty. A hard choice is a hard choice no matter what.
We are faced with making choices each and every day of our lives (science.unctv.org says that the average person makes 35,000 remotely conscious decisions a day!). This will never change. They run from the mundane (what to have for breakfast) to the momentous (should I marry this guy or not). Some choices are always going to be harder than others, but in all choosing, it’s best to take with equanimity the results of that choice. Remember that perfection is just a concept and if you make the best choice you possibly can at the time, then hopefully that should suffice.
1I bought a lottery ticket on my birthday once (08/08/88) and played a lot of eights. I didn’t win anything. I did not buy a lottery ticket in 2008. Maybe that was my problem. I went to Las Vegas once with my husband and a friend. While they played Baccarat (actually the friend played while my husband watched), I sat at a nickel slot machine and won $72 (actually $74 but I started by putting in a roll of nickels). They played Baccarat long enough that I sat there long enough to put it all back into the machine including my initial $2. It killed the time. Was it fun? Not really.
2I’ve had three jobs where I had to wear a uniform to work. That was perfect to my way of thinking … no worries about what I was going to wear … no decisions to make.