This post explores the implications on decision making that dilemmas have. What spurred this inquiry is a 1 March, 2011t article in the national Post titled “Too few men willing to give away sperm: study”; by Tom Blackwell; pages A1 and A4.
Apparently Canada has had a six year-old ban on commercial trade in human sperm and eggs. However, a recent report (commissioned by the federal government) suggests that this has lead to a systemic donor shortage. What I really find interesting is the report authors statement:
“The altruistic model is the right model. It makes absolute sense from an ethical perspective to be going in that direction (but it is not working out all that well apparently – my comment).”
This post is not about debating this specific dilemma. Rather it is about how we find ourselves in decision dilemmas – this is what matters.
I have heard it proposed that decision dilemmas arise from three root causes:
- Arise out of our understanding of how the world works (limits of our scientific understanding)
- Arise out of abilities to create things (our creating, engineering, organizing and structuring limits)
- Arise out of thinking and value systems (what we believe, accept, condone, etc.)
Clearly the sperm donation dilemma arises from the third root cause noted above.
Apart from doing talent management, I spend much of my practice working with those who have decision dilemmas in their lives. I would say that the rank order of dilemma sources is: thinking and value system ones are the most frequent by a large degree; inability to create things is a distant second.
Thinking and value dilemmas are especially intriguing because they are in the most part self induced or the result of socialization processes that we have grown up in. they are truly human created.
I have noticed they have two profound effects on decision making:
- They literally blind us from seeing or at the very least considering alternative possibilities. The authors above have clearly made a declaration that they are not prepared to reconsider (the altruistic model is right!). Yet we know that it not so much right (in a metaphysical sense) as an adopted value choice (and now it has become right – for us at least). And, now they are struggling to live with their choice’s consequences.
- They create a strong emotional (can even induce physical sickness) aversion to choices that can be contemplated and considered. This means we are creating a strong aversion (even incapacity) to act on these “deplorable” choices even when we can see advantages for doing so.
Even when I have worked with clients on the “create things” dilemma issues, I have invariably have found our deliberations drifting into the realm of thinking and value sources.
As a species, I would propose that we need to adopt thinking and value systems if we are to survive let alone succeed. But we need to always remember the choice to think and believe in something carries with it the uncertainty and risk of being wrong (thinking issue) and subsequent events becoming at odds with our espoused desired outcomes (value based issues).
People of science know how to “instrumentally” protect themselves from thinking based dilemmas – they view what they believe to be true as a hypothesis or theory (i.e., consider the possibility that they are likely to be wrong). Why’d I say “instrumentally”? Because when you study those who have made some of the strongest contributions to science, you find them full of contradictions, misplaced fixation on their theories (in spite of contrary evidence) and messed up personal lives. But science as process deals with these idiosyncrasies over time (sometimes at great loss in reputation).
It is the values based dilemmas that are most intriguing. Even when we are aware that our values are the issue and we can see others having differing values so they are not so troubled, we often persist in our suffering by holding onto them. Values capture us in ways that evidence based beliefs don’t. Speaking for myself, I have had to occasionally deal with the dilemmas of my values versus some decision issue. I can truly assure you that it has not been easy. I have had to learn several “around the fence” type strategies when time limited choices have to be made.
Around the fence type stratagems are contrived decision making devices to separate you from your values long enough to enable you to choose. However, I have had less success at dealing with implementation “convulsions” (I know strong language!). My most successful strategy is to get someone else to do the nasty work for me. It may be cowardly, but it works, and if it is the correct thing to do (remember I have chosen) it is appropriate to be successful at implementation. However, I moat often know I need to deal with my own “stuff”, so successful or not, I suffer and proceed with trying to do the “better thing”.
What is an example of an around the fence type strategy?
I hate being wrong, so I will procrastinate until I am sure I will be right (Hah, as if that can ever be the case!). This is a strong personal value. So when I face a decision choice among two options (I have always reduced the options down to two) and I can’t figure out which option is best for me, what do I do next? I assume will be wrong no matter which choice I make, so my issue is: “Which choice would I prefer being wrong about?”
This has always made it easy for me to select – one choice is has always been easier to accept being wrong with.
I would be delighted if any readers share their experiences.