Musings on decisions and factors that drive them.
Everything is relative
As I watched President Obama's speech to the assemblage at West Point, I looked at the faces of the cadets. So young, I thought. So very, very young. So much being put on their shoulders. So much to ask of them at such a young age.
The odd thing about getting older, as my father used to tell me, is that it is only the body that ages. One continues to feel eighteen inside, each morning when one awakes. Except that a certain breadth of experience provides a type of stability or equanimity to the thinking of that eighteen-year-old deep inside. I am now beginning to experience first hand this insight that my father tried to pass casually to me decades ago.
All this has underscored a key principle in bringing groups to consensus, and finding the unity of which the President spoke. We need to understand varying perspectives in terms of their "context" or vantage point -- those that come from differing backgrounds, or from diverse cultures or experiences, or the differing views that are simply due to age.
If the context, or viewpoint, changes, the criteria by which we judge differs. Context sets the framework for determining viability, or even just acceptability, in our minds.
One simply views life and one's choices differently, when one's position in it changes. It is why a health decision could differ for the same person for the same disease when that person is forty vs. when the same person is ninety-six. Why an item that costs the same can seem expensive or inexpensive depending on one's income. It is why a view of war can change when the soldier is oneself, or is one's child. All perspectives are valid. Common understanding of a "true" picture, and from that the glimmer of potential unity, comes from seeing the same object from all viewpoints.
Reaching Agreement without Homogenization
Growing up in a highly rural area of a territory of the U.S., I'm old enough to remember when homogenization and pasteurization of milk were introduced at our local dairy. Somehow we were led to believe that both processes made milk "better" for us. I didn't realize for many years, that while pasteurization was the health-related process, homogenization was a cosmetic food "make over." We fervently believed in "Grade A Homogenized." We falsely assumed that both processes were irrevocably intertwined in producing the final "acceptable" product.
Over time, the word "homogenization" has come to evoke conformity, being insipid and mediocre, and with the overall "bland-ing" of America. Ironically, in a nation in which individualism is touted as a hallmark, we have slowly become populated with uniform strip malls dotted with fast food chains and "big box" franchises. One can move 3,000 miles and feel one is still in Anywhere, U.S.A. This surface conformity cannot disguise significant underlying differences of opinions. For many, the sense of a loss of individuality and the need to reaffirm it can surface at any time.
In our work supporting decision-making, we often see the combination of a strong desire to maintain separateness as an expression of individuality even when a group has acknowledged the need to reach agreement. Often voiced is a fear that a decision will become "homogenized." Fear that the result will be a bland choice, because the decision was made while "trying to satisfy everybody."
It is possible to find common ground, or reach agreement at a higher level, while at the same time seeking out and being respectful of differences. Differences between us should not be masked, but unveiled. Whether the subject is health care, going to war, choosing financial institutions to support or not, our differences when voiced are critical to finding better answers to our problems. Our individual thoughts, when weighed and accounted for in terms of what is important to each of us, will surface more robust solutions than those developed from just one perspective.
A decision reached through consensus is not one that is homogenized. A team of mature individuals soon recognizes that one should not strive to achieve individualism through stubborn, singular, inflexible disagreement, a sort of one-dimensional thinking. Each voice, as one facet in an approach, contributes by helping produce a multi-dimensional solution.
Feeding the nanny state on the Fourth
I'm not a real fan of the Fourth of July. Not since my university days when I worked evenings and weekends in a big city hospital ER to earn tuition money. A parade of disasters would occur each and every Fourth. Facial injuries, burns, blindness. A great many were self-inflicted injuries. But not all. Most resulted from the "it-won't-happen-to-me" mentality of not just children, but more reprehensibly, of adults who insisted on showing off with fireworks. It's been decades since my ER days, but my general attitude towards fireworks handled by amateurs hasn't changed a whole lot. Perhaps the only significant shift is my viewpoint. I worry more about the persons on the receiving end of others' negligence or bravado.
Nine houses were set ablaze in the Seattle area this Fourth due to mishandling of fireworks. Last year there were two houses near my neighborhood that caught on fire. In this region, some types of fireworks (much more explosive than sparklers or Roman candles) are "legal." And, legal or not, they can be deadly if mishandled. TV coverage of this past weekend's tragedies indicated that this "legality" somehow excused those who set off the fireworks from any responsibility for the injuries to others and their property. [I don't know how true this is. We drive cars, which are legal. But when we drive irresponsibly, we are liable for our manner of handling the car, i.e. the legal item.]
Many argue the "remedy" to these Fourth of July debacles is simply to ban fireworks. While initially inclined to support this direction, I also wondered why we must always pass a law, a regulation, or a fine to instill a sense of responsibility in persons for their actions. My English friends refer to this as "the nanny state."
We come round to the overarching purpose of what is hoped to be achieved by our actions. If this purpose is not the purpose of all those involved or affected, then actions pursued or suggested will not be "owned" or respected. It is imperative to integrate differing viewpoints into a simple, clear framework for discussion of possible options. Hence, we combine "to allow festive pyrotechnic enjoyment" with "while ensuring the safety of persons and property." A ban is but one suggested solution. A ban on unlicensed pyrotechnical amateurs could be another possible solution. Penalties for mishandling fireworks is another. Stiffer penalties for purchasing illegal fireworks. Penalties on persons manufacturing and selling illegal fireworks. Training in the proper handling of pyrotechnics. Working a few shifts in a big city ER. There are more possible solutions and there could be a combination of actions providing an even better approach. But it all starts with working on the overarching framework for the decision. Then one would weigh the options in terms of how well they address the purpose. It many not altogether prevent our becoming a "nanny state," but there will at least be some thought to selection of more viable "nanny" actions.