Friday, 6 May 2011

Study in black and white

It’s been a while since I last posted, and I blame work for getting in the way. There have been some difficult decisions to make of late, and I find it very damaging to my head space when I have a decision to make. I simply keep thrashing it out to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Instinctively, I feel the need to debate matters properly, explore the shades of grey. And I am ever sceptical of those who make their decisions easily, assuming they are somehow weak-brained, and haven’t properly grasped the problem. But, as T.S. Eliot puts it, there is ‘time yet for a hundred indecisions’. So I thought I should rightly write about the business of decision making.

Broadly speaking we tend to make our decisions using either our reason or intuition. But if you have a conundrum that you just cannot decide upon then you might like to try the following ways:

1. Listing all the pros and cons, and giving each a weighting. Then totting up. This is a slightly more scientific way of:

2. Tossing a coin. Very handy in settling disputes among squabbling children, but chance seems an unsatisfactory method for resolving anything that matters.

3. Prioritize the options , because – as a well-known psychologist once explained to me – most people actually make their decisions based on a very limited criteria of the two or three things they care about most. (K is a master at this reductionist method of decision making, which tends to be a quick and infuriating process.)

4. Ambivalence test yourself, by asking ‘what are the benefits of doing x?’, ‘what are the benefits of not doing x?’ ‘How will I feel if I do x?’, ’How will I feel if I don’t do x?’ and so on. This seems to me a deeply tedious way of going about solving a problem, but I expect it might come in handy if you’re thinking of leaving your husband or something (see 3).

5. Look to your motivation. Buddhists believe that there are three undesirable motivations: raga (passion or lust); dosa (hatred or malice) and moha (delusion). The desirable motivations are basically the absence of these, or put another way, caga (renunciation), metta (loving kindness) and panna (wisdom or understanding).

Well, it would seem that even in writing this post I have failed to reach a conclusion. But my instinct tells me this is a decidedly good thing.