Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Judging, deciding and acting: Evolving sensibilities

Recent events have led to these remarks about judging, deciding and acting. One might admit to judging a person based on first impressions, for example a person’s face. “Such a beautiful face … such a warm smile … such trusting eyes.” Of course such a judgment can be mistaken. One should consider the whole person … and that does not mean the person’s body but, rather, the person’s actions and accomplishments – the person’s character to put it more vaguely.  Of course actions and accomplishments are more difficult to uncover, but they are much more revealing about who the person is than that person’s face or body.

However, there is an argument based on survival value that people have evolved to make quick judgments and decisions, and then act on those judgments and decisions. Nevertheless, when one examines one’s own quick judgments and impulsive decisions, one can easily find cases of errors in judgment and ineffective decisions. Of course there are religious arguments that one should not judge another. Still we persist in judging, deciding and then acting on those judgments and decisions.

Were one guided by reason, one might withhold many more judgments and decisions and subsequent actions. I recall the advice of a roommate from college who later became a judge in Texas that when about to do or say something that could not be undone [easily], that one should pause and evaluate alternatives and perhaps withhold judgment and action. Great advice that I have failed to follow on too many occasions. He told me at that time, in a moment when he knew I was about to act in haste, that his father had given him that advice, and that it had proven to be meaningful for him personally as well as professionally. I now find myself contemplating that advice once again.

A rational process might proceed from formulating a judgment, to evaluating alternative courses of action, to deciding on a particular action, and then to acting. That sounds like a thoughtful, reflective sequence, which could and might well guide many of our judgments, decisions, and actions, expect for the very rare occasion when confronting an impending, life-threatening situation. Another way to cast that advice is this: If no judgment, decision or action is necessary, then make no judgment, avoid a decision, and take no action. This is simple enough. If I have no money to purchase a new vehicle, I have no reason to make a judgment about which vehicle is best, and there is no decision or action possible due to the unavailability of funds. Yet there are many arguments among those not in the market to purchase a vehicle with regard to which vehicle is best. Perhaps that is because one might be fantasizing about having sufficient funds from an unexpected source.

In the world of educational technology, one might be constrained with regard to the learning management system one is allowed to use, for example when one’s institution mandates the use of one system. There are many arguments about which system is best among those who have no choice or say in the selection or use of a particular system. Again, that might be because one could be fantasizing about being in a position to have a say and select a different system.

I can imagine many other scenarios involving empty judgments, risk-free decisions, and no possibility for meaningful action. The concern I have, though, involves judging people, making decisions about a person’s character or worthiness, and then acting on those decisions. Those actions have consequences, and often the consequences go against other values that one may hold but had not brought into conscious consideration.

One of my professors pointed out the difference between humanistic religious beliefs and practice and authoritarian religious beliefs and practice – namely, the former have one basic commandment – namely, thou shalt love – whereas the latter have a different basic commandment – namely, thou shalt obey. When obedience is placed before loving and caring, there is a potential for hasty judgment, impulsive decision making, and harmful actions. We can do better if we learn to reflect and withhold judgment much more often. We can do better. We can evolve into beings with sense and sensibility.