Doing The Extremely Smart Thing

buds and donkeyOn the subject of doing the smart thing in terms of cold impersonal economic considerations, the RAND Corporation this week released the results of an in-depth study on the potential billions in economic gain for Israel and the Palestinians if a two state solution could be reached, contrasted with the far greater economic cost of returning to open conflict. The fact that open warfare in any region is far more destructive economically than negotiated accords should be surprising to no one. What the very rational RAND Corporation report spells out is the actual billions to be gained or lost by following each of five possible scenarios the two sides could follow in dealing with their differences.

On a much smaller scale we have witnessed in millions of cases how much economic benefit a couple and a family would achieve by negotiating their differences rather than going into the open warfare called divorce, as in “The War of the Roses”. From a strictly financial perspective enormous amounts of family income are spent on the legal processes of getting a divorce, followed by the ongoing economic hit of having to maintain two separate residences rather than one. Most typically each marital partner, to say nothing of the children, experience a significant drop in their lifestyle as a result of going the divorce route.

I have more than once begun working with a couple who after a very few sessions announced they couldn’t afford therapy to resolve their differences but immediately each shelled out $10,000 retainers to family attorneys to just begin the process of coming apart legally. The people who most obviously immediately gain from the divorce epidemic are the family law attorneys and the owners of apartment complexes. And this is considering merely the cold hard financial facts, giving no attention to the staggering emotional hit experienced by each member of the family.

You don’t need a RAND Corporation paper to show how much better each side would be if dialogue could achieve a workable relationship rather than going to open warfare. This is true most obviously in today’s Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and other Middle Eastern nations where entire infrastructures are reduced to rubble, turning developed nations into living Hells.

Once again, wouldn’t doing the smart thing really be doing the right thing?

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Do the Right Thing, Do the Smart Thing

ethical-dilemaDo the right thing. Do the smart thing. Which one of these guides your decision-making? What career should I pursue? What person should I marry? Should I get divorced? Is it time to get pregnant? Should I spend money on that item? Should I take on a partner or go it alone.

Everyday we make decisions, mostly very minor to minor. Sometimes we make major decisions, life-changing and permanent in their impact. Some people very clearly think long and hard about what is the smart thing to do, what will make me the most money or get me the greatest pleasure. What will get me what I want, or who I want? How can I win; what do I need to do to succeed? This type of thinking essentially involves looking at the variables in the equation and following the most compelling logic to design a plan of operation to achieve the chosen goal. All of us use this type of thinking repeatedly in the small decisions and even in many of the larger decisions we make on a regular basis.

Others primarily concern themselves with what is right, what is moral or ethical. Every day we conduct ourselves based on the rules we have been taught since birth about what we should do if we are being good and what we should avoid doing in order not to be bad. These are dependable guidelines for most of the decisions we make repeatedly. As long as these rules are grounded in excellent moral guidance they serve us well.

Help in making decisions is a major reason people seek out therapists. People do not want to come to regret having made a decision they later came to see as a mistake. We have all had that experience. We could regret that we weren’t smart enough and failed to achieve an important goal. If we have a conscience we could regret doing something wrong, something about which we feel guilty or remorseful.

Sometimes what has us on the horns of a dilemma is that it seems the smart thing to do is clearly also unethical given the moral standards we consciously embrace. When someone is seeking help choosing the best course of action I listen carefully to get the most accurate reading of all the things this person is wrestling with in trying to finalize an appropriate decision. Sometimes it is clearly, “Do the smart thing:” sometimes it is clearly, “Do the right thing.” Most frequently the two are intertwined. And sometimes it is obvious that the clever thing to do is also an immoral thing to do.

Are you aware of which of these is your primary course to follow in planning your course of action? Most of our decisions do not require us to choose one course or the other. In a stable environment doing the right thing, treating people and the world around us with respect is also clearly the smart thing to do, especially looking into the future.

This is too big a subject to address in one post so I plan to revisit the issue again later. Let me just leave you with a thought. Where coming to a decision gets really difficult is when it seems we must, to be smart, do something that really troubles our conscience. Count yourself fortunate if at such a time you really have to wrestle with the various factors you have to consider. Many people never have such a wrestling match with themselves. They know they are in no danger of later having to feel guilt or remorse at having done something that was so clearly clever yet so clearly damaging to others. These are called sociopaths: no guilt, no shame, no remorse, no embarrassment.