By Rhonda Collins, I Start Wondering Contributor
I was planning to write an article about making wise choices, but what’s really on my mind is death. Then, I realized I could focus on both. After all, the two are connected in many ways.
In the most obvious correlation, as the Darwin Awards attest, people often make bad choices and die as a result. Yet, I am thinking more broadly for this article.
Different Types of Decisions
First, there’s the connection between life choices and the legacy we leave after we die. Most of us hope that when we are gone, we will be remembered in a positive way. We want others to look upon our lives and appreciate the contributions we have made and hopefully be inspired by our lives. To achieve that, we must make wise choices.
Next, we can examine our choices when the people we love are nearing death and when they pass on. So many decisions must be made in these situations – choices related to caregiving, medicines, what to spend money on, medical procedures, and then the funeral and burial or cremation choices. This leads me to explain what has prompted my preoccupation with death and dying.
In the past two-and-a-half-years, I’ve experienced the deaths of two dear friends, my mother and five parents of close friends – one just two weeks ago. Also, my neighbor died three weeks ago. Numerous other acquaintances and colleagues also have had parents die.
My friends and I are at the age where we are either making choices about caregiving for our parents or making decisions regarding their final disposition. It seems I can hardly scroll through my Facebook news feed these days without seeing one or more friends who are saying goodbye – sometimes a very long one – to a parent.
If you have ever had to provide care for another adult, you know how challenging making wise choices can be. It seems hundreds of decisions must be made. How do we ensure we make the best choices for our loved ones and for ourselves?
Just writing the three previous sentences has made my hands start sweating and my posture tense as I think about the stress I experienced helping my aging mother. In the last four years of her life, I arranged for her caregivers, took care of all her personal business, and then lived with her for a few months while she was under Hospice care. There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t ask myself whether I was making the right choices.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Each day we make millions of choices – what email to read, who to talk to, what project to start next, what to eat for lunch. Some decisions are more consequential: Do I drive after I’ve had that margarita? Do I accept the job offer and move out-of-state? Do I put Mom in a nursing home or move in with her so she can live out her final days at home?
According to Teaching Critical Thinking Skills, a substantial body of research has been published that confirms it is possible for individuals to learn the skill of critical thinking. The ability to analyze a problem and evaluate the various possible solutions is an excellent skill we all need. However, in a quick journal search, I was not able to find any research that unequivocally documents that people can learn how to make wise choices.
So I posed the question to several intelligent friends this week: Is making good decisions something innate or can we learn how to make wise choices? Excluding people with true mental health issues, nurture rather than nature explains sound judgment, according to my friends. However, several suggested that some people seem to be born with the ability to make better (or worse) choices more readily.
In other words, genetics – or good parenting – may give some individuals a head start on wisdom. But if my very unscientific poll is accurate, good decision-making can indeed be learned or perfected.
How, then, do we make better choices more often and minimize the poor decisions?
How to Exercise Wisdom
Those who are avid readers of this website have recently received some sage advice on this topic from my colleagues. Dorian Martin recently discussed the importance of reviewing our lives “to make course corrections so we can live the quality of life we desire while also creating a meaningful legacy.” Part of her more fulfilling journey is about saying “no” more often in order to say “yes” to the really important things.
Also on this page, Brenda Grays posted, “It’s important to improve your emotional and spiritual health and renew your strength by making choices that take you to a higher level.” She reminds us not to dwell on past mistakes, but to be optimistic about the future..
And the wise Albus Dombledore, as written by J.K. Rowling, gave Harry Potter two pieces of advice on good judgment: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” and “There will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
Learning from Our Mistakes
Wisdom results from a concerted effort to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy, and to make decisions that are good for ourselves and those around us. Like any talent or skill, it takes a lot of practice and a little introspection.
Thus, I believe it’s important to put a magnifying glass to those areas where we have had a lapse in judgment. Not that we should obsess over poor decisions, but we need to accept responsibility for our mistakes, learn from them and pledge to make better decisions next time. After all, if we don’t think about what went wrong, how can we make better decisions the next time?
Think About What’s Truly Important
Now back to my thoughts on death: my own. In my genetic ancestry are Parkinson’s Disease (grandfather), Alzheimer’s (grandmother), dementia (mother and aunt), cancer (mother and uncle) and cardiovascular disease (father, mother, grandmother, grandfather and others). I’ve been contemplating getting the DNA test that would reveal whether I am predisposed to any of those horrific maladies.
In another unscientific poll, I asked my friends what they would do. With only one exception, all advised me not to do it. One of my younger friends asked, “What would you do differently if you knew you would get the disease?” I said, “Well, I guess I would make sure my affairs were in order and make an effort to tell all my loved ones how much they mean to me.” Her reply, “Shouldn’t you do that anyway?”
Now that’s some wisdom for you, right there. Make wise choices, my friends. And use the comments section below to tell me about how you do it.
Sources for This Post
Darwin Awards are given to those who do stupid things that result in their death. Check out the award recipients at http://www.darwinawards.com/ .
Leicester, M. Teaching Critical Thinking Skills. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2010.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1998.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2000.