Sunday, 30 March 2014

To Give A Damn

I alluded to this blog post the other day, but got busy doing other things. I've been nudged into it by what I've seen since.

OK, so whether or not you have enjoyed the Harry Potter books or movies, it can't have escaped you that some very interesting quotes have come out of them, which have become memes (no, NOT the little pictures on Facebook, REAL memes) and among them is this from Dumbledore:

"It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." 

I love this quote, not that it offers anything new. This is standard wisdom. I love that an author took this standard wisdom, and put it it a story aimed at the young, who are the ones who need to hear it the most, and did it in such a way that it's memorable.

Of course, it won't be "heard" by everyone. When it comes to wisdom you can lead many a horse to water.

The basis of all wisdom is, actually, this concept. That our choices are The Thing. This includes the choice of not choosing, and the choice of doing nothing.

When we look at a person's character, we often say that his intelligence is not the most important thing. That people of low intelligence, even with a medical diagnosis of such, can often be perfectly moral, good people. Useful people. But if we break intelligence down we find it has several different components, one of which is a thing called executive skills. If a person is lacking here, they don't make good choices, and this can lead to them not, actually, being very moral.

On the other hand, a person of otherwise high intelligence can still lack in this area. Except now there's no excuse for it.

It all comes down to one choice really, at the beginning, and that is the choice to endeavour to make good choices. Perhaps that sounds a bit obvious, but clearly this isn't foremost in the mind of a great number of people.

But of course, we could argue that what a good choice is, will depend on opportunities available. Sometimes life is a multiple choice quiz rather than a free answer paper. Even so, generally there is an answer that is preferable to the others.

Let's say you received a bonus from your employer. Instead of just patting you on the head, he hands you $1000. Now you have to choose what you do with it. There are several options available to you. It could be debated as to whether it's wiser to spend it or save it, and if you choose to spend it, maybe investing in an item you get to keep for a long time could be a better choice than frittering it away partying. If you spoke to a financial expert he'd have no problem suggesting the best use of it. If you spoke to a person whose decisions revolve around having fun, you'd get a different answer, and you may just listen to the latter.

Because it's a bonus, what you probably won't get is much criticism, no matter what your choice is. Bonuses tend to be seen as "spare" money.

It would be a different story if you frittered away money that was needed to pay bills or debts. The advice you'd get now would be mostly "don't do it", and any friends who suggested "nah, go ahead, life's short" may have a happy-go-lucky attitude, but in the long run, they'd have you homeless. You are therefore less likely to listen to them, and you'd almost certainly be criticized if you did.

Money, however, is the least of it. Money can be counted, and you know how much you have spare, or you can at least look at the statement later and see how much you wasted. It is our other choices, that can't be measured that are much more difficult. Especially when seeking advice. Because attitudes vary so much.

So, when it's a non-financial decision (or at least one that isn't obviously's possible to argue that most decisions are ultimately financial, but that's another matter) there is more chance of the heart ruling the head.

Some people think all decisions should be made based on emotion. Some think that all should be based on logic. Wise people know that both are involved, to a greater or lesser degree.

But it all begins with that first decision, the decision to make wise choices.

So, that might sound like I'm stating the obvious, but as I look around me, it's not really clear that people have made that initial decision. Certainly, if you listen to their reactions when their choices are criticized, what you hear is not a rational explanation. What you tend to hear are excuses that come from a place of apathy, laziness, selfishness, or all out stupidity. In fact there seems to be a trend towards pride in bad choices.

My first task every time I go to Facebook is to hide conversations with friends of friends that FB has decided to show on my wall. Not because they are bad people - this is no judgement on your friends - but because I feel like a stalker. I feel like I'm seeing something private, that was never intended for me. I am not comfortable with this, but I cannot stop FB from doing this nor can I demand that your friends put their dirty laundry up for friends only. If they choose to make their most intimate stuff public, it lands on my wall. So, I hide them. One at a time.

That said, before I realised what was happening, I was privy to a number of conversations that shocked me. Perhaps they shouldn't. I am well aware that the world is full of this sort of drama, but I choose to systematically avoid it, so I see less of it, and when I do it leaves me open-mouthed.

These people are clearly making many bad choices, and not only in that they share these details publically. They are making bad choices in their relationships, in their lifestyles, and in their day-to-day dealings. They are doing dangerous things, things that can only lead to harm, either to themself or to others. They are not demonstrating any wisdom at all in what they say, or what they do.

But what's worse is that they don't seem to care. None of them ever say "I know it was wrong". And NEVER have I seen any of these people suggest for one moment that they will try harder in future, change their ways, or make an effort to be different. In other words they haven't made that basic, fundamental decision to at least try to make good choices.

I am also aware that no amount of gentle reminder or nagging or outright intervention will change that, if they are not ready to hear it.

I do believe however, that everyone, other than actual sociopaths and psychpaths, are capable of making that decision. To try. To want to.

I further believe that the whole idea of a good person, or a wide person, or a sensible person comes from them having made that choice. Even if they screw up sometimes. It's about the intent. The desire to improve.

In another famous character quote, Yoda said there is no try, but I think he's wrong. I think trying is what makes us the best we can be. It allows us to reach our full potential. Effort act as a base. By choosing to care about how we choose, we will choose better, and there's no downside to this.


  1. What's sad is there are many people who consistently make bad choices or frequently allow themselves to be influenced into making bad choices. I know someone who has made a right mess of her life because of the choices that she has made, and she shows little sign of regret for those choices.