Sunday, July 21, 2013

That Was Great! - Moving On Before the End

I have really enjoyed riding my shiny blue motorcycle to I put it up for sale.

My 2005 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 could be yours!

"I've decided to sell my motorcycle."

"I thought you loved it?"

"I do, I'm just ready to love something else..."

A Sweet Revelation

Mmm, cake.
Calling my name...
Many of us have been sitting at the dinner table eyeing the big slice of chocolate cake that has just been placed in front of us. We take that first bite and think: "Wow this is one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever tasted!" Until recently, I had never taken the time to stop and think at that moment. A few years ago, while at a company banquet this situation happened to me.  The cake was amazing, I mean truly mouth watering. I had one bite, while the rest of the table devoured their amazing treat. The resulting conversation:

"Don't you like the cake?"

"Oh yes, I think it is probably the best cake
I have tasted in recent memory."

"So why aren't you eating more?"

"I've just had about the best taste experience
I can remember, what would I get out of having more?"

"Isn't more always better?

At the time I was thinking, no, more is not better. If I had finished the cake, what was an amazing experience of taste may have been soured by the guilt and weighted feeling of all those unwelcome calories.  Why did I make this unique choice compared to my peers?  Let's open the hood on choice and take a look...

Revealing Human Choice

I was not taught much about the full mechanics of choice in my life. Most of us aren't.  It is really hard to teach choice to children, when 75% of their waking hours actions are dictated to them. It is also very hard to teach choice, because choice necessarily comes with ramifications.

If children are taught much about choice they will start to realize how much of what parents do is determined choice. With choice knowledge the parental statement "we have to go" coverts from a universal statement about the nature of the universe, into a simple human preference with no more authority than the child's "I have to stay."

The second thing that comes with choice is the basis for choices: values. Values are the foundation on which choices are made, and the measuring sticks against which outcomes are compared. To teach choice, one must dive into values without which choices are arbitrary and meaningless. Values are a very touchy subject since they can vary from person to person, with no "right" list. Once values are revealed as subjective, choices are revealed to be very subjective and always personal.

This lack of universality and subjectivity combined with win/loose conflict resolution techniques directly attack the foundation of parental and teacher authority over children and so provide high incentive for most all adults to avoid the subject of choice with young people.

The study of choice is called Economics. When economics is mentioned, I immediately think of money. Money is a universal measure of value. Since values underpin our choices, the mechanics of how we spend our money is the mechanics of choice.

Why On Earth Should Anyone Care?

It is safe to say that economics is one of the most feared disciplines in education. It is ridiculed as boring, complicated, obtuse, and generally disconnected from daily life. (Of course so is social studies, yet it is taught early and often in schools while economics is not.) The real issue is that economics is the study of value, and values are a big off limits topic for public school systems. As soon as you tread on values, all the angry parents in the world will storm the gates fearing their loss of control over a subject normally reserved for family or religion.

Photo of a glacial ice chunk.
90% is hidden below water.
Economics matters because it is the study of hidden costs. Economics as a study of choice inherently identifies that the option we choose is not the only one with value. When we make a choice we must be specifically not choosing a vast array of other options with their own value sets. Every positive we choose, is a vast list of other positives from which we are turning.

Here in lies the greatest hazard of not learning the fundamentals of choice: 

We so often don't realize what we aren't choosing.

What We Don't Choose

When I finish that cake, what health am I not choosing?When chit chat with small talk, what heartwarming topic am I not choosing? When I drive to work each day, what exercise or exploration am I not choosing? When I sit to write a blog post for a hour, what am I not choosing?

I really do enjoy riding my motorcycle to work on nice days. But what am I not choosing? Let's say I like the motorcycle about at about 100 units of fun, I have to remember it is costing me all the other value options I don't choose. The motorcycle may be worth $2500. What other things or activities could I do with the time and money of the bike? Would I value them less or more?

What I Do Choose

I have come to realize there are more possible things and experiences in this world than I could ever get around to enjoying. If I have already done one, why on earth would I keep doing it? Economics helps me understand the law of diminishing returns; the more I do something the less I get from it.

Things always have quickly diminishing returns because they are mostly fixed. Experiences on the other hand are so varied that they can remain fresh and valuable for a much longer time and with higher repetition. People are the most complex of all; I can go a lifetime experiencing the complexity and wonder of my partner Sharon without ever finding the end to her value for me.

It took about five years for me to hit the curve where my bike's value is worth more to me in cash than it is in the wonderful experience it provides, about the same time it took for my Vespa scooter to hit that same curve.  

My challenge to myself is to stay aware of my choices so that I can get out from under things as soon, or even just before their value wanes such that I can find someone else who will enjoy that thing, and so that I am freed up to choose again.

I love choice, and have only scratched the surface of this topic. What do you choose?  What values do you hold to make those choices?

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