It gets a little more interesting, though. I was in a pre-employment training class up until recently. When it started, I took care to note the units to which each person hoped to be posted. Some made fairly ‘flexible’ choices while others were scarily specific. Surprisingly, even the most specific changed their minds a few times during the program. By the end, some people got exactly what they wanted, some others got what they could “tolerate” – and a few got precisely what they dreaded. Your guess is excellent if you already know that I fall in the last group. Well, guess how happy I am with my new role? Disgusted, grumpy or just tolerant? Nothing of the sort; I’m extremely delighted. In fact, I think I’m going to be great at it; got a certification in the field too!
In spite of apparently “losing out” on my desires, I’m extremely happy with my bosses, colleagues and clients. Question is: why am I not unhappy? To be sure there was nothing wrong with my diet, I inquired from other classmates; even those who got what they feared seem fairly happy. A few from the other class, though, got what they wanted – but with horrible bosses. Those didn’t seem very cheerful. Now, it makes one wonder; what did we really want? How, and at what point, did the context change from the job to the people involved? I mean, if Ghadaffi had seen his end before seizing power, would he still have been “Ghadaffi”?
We’re not talking about ends today; we’re talking about decisions – the pathways to those ends. That is not to ignore the importance of the frmer, though. Afterall, if you don’t know where you’re going, what are the odds of taking a right turn?
Decisions are a major part of our daily lives. We’re so used to this reality that we make many of them sub-consciously – the routine, everyday ones. The really important ones, though, are never that easy. There always seems to be some hidden ‘clause’ somewhere. For instance, our preferred routes to work may not necessarily be the shortest; we may just like the scenery – or the light traffic – or even the road. Truth is: often, the deal-breaker may be totally unrelated to the initial argument. In this highly simplified example, the debate was initially over proximity. But, what tipped the balance in the end? I’d say pleasure. And, is proximity the same as pleasure? Not necessarily!
The easiest decision I ever made was my very first. Was I to cry after the doctor held me upside down and spanked my tender red butt? It wasn’t much of a choice; the pain made sure of that. By my next decision-moment, things had grown in complexity. Was I to feed from the left or the right breast? Or turn both down altogether – and opt for a feeding bottle? The third dimension crept in and became a harsh norm from then on. Even the most diligent mind wishes things would be simpler; that choices would be no harder than picking black from white, left from right or good from bad – but it’s just not how things work.
I always refrain from telling people what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, unless the uniqueness of their situation is totally clear to me. It’s easy to interpret this to mean I live on the border of moral indecision, that I have no opinions – or that I’m just too insecure to reveal. That’s one way to view it; the trained mind, however, follows a different path. What’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is obvious in any ideal situation – but how often do we have those? There’s always a third half – a certain peculiarity – that was hidden when the initial generalization was done. The average law-maker would call breaking the speed-limit an offense – but what if the end-result is to save a life? Are soldiers also murderers? If not, why?
I’ve come to understand that there’s what’s good, what’s bad – what best in any particular context. The law makes room for “crimes of passion”; ever wondered why? A crime should be a crime on any fair scale. Yet, ‘blind’ justice sees that sometimes, a situation exempts itself. If you’re faced with putting down a man who’s got your dearly beloved at gun point, what would your thoughts be about? It’s almost like hitting a three-pronged fork in the road, with only two signs. You don’t know where the third path leads – but you’re sure none of the other two takes you where you need to be.
To the most appropriate example, the issue on every Nigerian’s lips: subsidy-removal! I may not know politics but I know a little arithmetic – and something definitely doesn’t add up. It’s obvious there’s some agenda – or endgame – that hasn’t yet made the headlines. Still, in spite of the missing piece(s), we have a big question to answer: is the subsidy-removal is good or bad?
Under ideal circumstances, “the government cannot continue to incur such costs” and “the people cannot be forced into unreasonable sacrifices”; stalemate!!! Neither side seems to be winning this – typically. I have to point out that a lack of completeness is the real reason I avoid such ‘absolute’ arguments. Let’s factor in ‘context’ and see how much clearer things get.
Is subsidy-removal justifiable against a backdrop of decaying infrastructure? Is it appropriate to double living costs before providing basic amenities? Why are living costs spiraling while a select few enjoy unspeakable luxuries? Subsidy-removal may not (in itself) be evil – but, in this context, at this time, it reeks of corruption and gross insensitivity.
Let’s pause to take that bet now; I’m no good at politics. I’m willing to stake my next pay-slip to prove that a tossed coin doesn’t always return Heads or Tails. It’s a long shot – but I’ll take it all the same. Are you in? I flip a coin – and it’s neither Heads nor Tails; a million reasons why. We may be astronauts in space – in what case, the coin never lands. Again, we may be in a really depraved neighbourhood, such that the coin gets snatched in the air – or I may miss my catch and lose it to a waiting ditch. In that case, we’d never know the outcome. Still, it may, by random chance, land in a grove and stop on its edge. How then do you call it? Who wins?
I forgot to ask what your stake was! Did you really want to win this bet – or did you just want me to lose? Maybe what you really wanted was to discover that other possibilities exist. Maybe the context changed shortly after you made the initial abslute ‘right-or-left’ choice. Then again, how do I know? I’d have to be in your exact shoes to understand!
The world will never run out of absolute debates – smoking vs. non-smoking, alcoholism vs. sobriety, pro-life vs. pro-choice, subsidy-removal vs. subsidy. Still, it’s the power of context that keeps things practical.
We will always have decisions to make; hardly will we ever have all the facts we need. There will, however, always be a context – and that makes all the difference. Absolute arguments play on obvious “facts” –and often lead nowhere. A context debate, however, is a game of the discerning – those who have learnt to see that every coin has three sides.
PS – My good friend is opening up his blog soon [ www.belemaalabo.blogspot.com ]. Please don’t forget this spot once he charms you! Have a great 2012.