Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Life transformed. By big decisions, and by small decisions too.

One of the many long-running threads in this blog: I apparently exemplify my old graduate school professor Martin Krieger's advice that it is not what you say but who you are when you say it.  A nobody is not heard and valued.  Guess who is Mr. Nobody here!

Yes, you regulars liked my observation there.  So, ok, it is not that I am a nobody.  But, then even the editor of the local newspaper where I have written columns for nearly a decade doesn't publish my pieces, like this, anymore! ;)

A couple of days ago, after attending a wedding, I wrote:
Which is all the more why the moments become so special.  The moment of the wedding.  The moment of the first job. The moment of the childbirth.  Life-changing moments.
Which leads me to Krieger's observation in the context of life-changing moments.  In the NY Times (which means it won't be my column, hahaha) David Brooks writes:
In her book “Transformative Experience,” L. A. Paul, a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says life is filled with decisions that are a bit like this. Life is filled with forks in the road in which you end up changing who you are and what you want.
People who have a child suddenly become different. Joining the military is another transformational experience. So are marrying, changing careers, immigrating, switching religions.
In each of these cases the current you is trying to make an important decision, without having the chance to know what it will feel like to be the future you.
It is not even Brooks' original thoughts--he is merely channeling what he read!

Ok, enough about me!

The philosophy professor takes off on a direction that is different from what I had written about in that post, but is an idea that I have often blogged about:
Paul’s point is that we’re fundamentally ignorant about many of the biggest choices of our lives and that it’s not possible to make purely rational decisions. “You shouldn’t fool yourself,” she writes. “You have no idea what you are getting into.”
Recall that Chinese parable that I love quoting, when it comes to how we have no idea how our decisions will play out in the future?  Mao--yes that Mao--might have even drawn from that parable when he responded to what he thought of the French Revolution with "It is too early to say."

Ok, enough about me! ;)

It maybe that the big decisions are a tad easier when we are young.  Because, when young we have that daring spirit and we act out of instincts than after thinking through.  Which is why we get the young to sign up with the military--the older and more thinking one becomes, chances are that we will understand the horrors of war.  People who marry young seem to be more inclined to have more kids--the older we get, we realize that babies are not all fun and wonderful smells, but that they can be stinky midnight criers.

Perhaps that is also what I saw on display the other day when the friend and I went hiking.  At one point along the hike, where the creek curved, the water was like the deep end of a swimming pool.  A few youngsters were diving into it from the boulders on the side.  And then there was a young woman who showed the boys how it is done.

The friend's click

In her two-piece bikini, the young woman swam across to the other bank of the creek. And walked up to the tree and climbed high up on it.  She didn't even pause when she reached the launch pad, so to speak.  She jumped.

In her case, the youthful daring worked out well.  In the case of another young woman, who went rock climbing, the adventure has left her paralyzed from the waist down.  A transformative moment in her life, but not the kind we wish for.

Every moment that we live represents a fork along the road of life, for we can never go back in time and to that other fork.  Every mundane moment is precious and transformative, too.


Anne in Salem said...

Every day, we have choices - what to wear, how to spend money, how to behave, how to react, what to read, what to think about, how to spend money, whether to exercise. Some are easier than others - dust the knickknacks or play cards with the kids, waste hours on social media or read a book, a pan of brownies or a plate of vegetables (okay, that last one is not so easy (can I have both?)). All reflect our values - faith, modesty, conservatism, daredevil, carefree.

We can consider all options and all conceivable outcomes in advance, but we can't know what will happen after we make the choice. The young tend not to care, feeling invincible and immortal and blissfully unaware of the potential negative consequences, at least until the adult wet blankets force them into the adult world. The adults can overthink and perhaps should trust their guts more, like the young. Sometimes it is best to throw caution to the wind and wing it. Those with faith pray for guidance and trust all will work out for the best, even if the best isn't immediately obvious.

I assume that your students have introduced you to the term YOLO - you only live once. Young adults seemed to embrace this in the last few years as an excuse to do all sorts of stupid, nonsensical acts. It seems to have fallen from the trendy lexicon thankfully. Funniest thing I have read in reference to YOLO was on a t-shirt - YOLO: the illiterates' carpe diem.

Sriram Khé said...

I offer a contrast to how the lazy ones interpret YOLO:
Yep, that too is a topic that I have addressed in the blog ;)

Yes, every decision we make has consequences, however trivial that issue might be. I suppose that realization comes only with experience. Note that I refer to experience not age--there are lots of middle-aged folks who seem to act like teenagers ;)

Ramesh said...

If we analyse (and blog ?) every decision every day, we would be stark raving lunatics in no time. So Just do it (with apologies to Nike) is not a bad idea.

By the way, I shall clobber you on the head for writing "the older we get, we realize that babies are not all fun and wonderful smells, but that they can be stinky midnight criers". What balderdash. Of course babies are all fun and wonderful smells. May a baby poop on your clean white shirt for saying such an awful thing :)

Sriram Khé said...

Indeed ... we just do most of the stuff that we do. Else, we could easily be frozen into inaction.
However, we ought to recognize that every action--profound or trivial in our views--is transformative in its own way, primarily because we can't ever go back and redo anything ...

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