Reality Check: The Trade-offs We Choose

In case your mind feels like it’s still on holiday, here’s a little scenario to spark your imagination.
You are going down a hallway behind a person on crutches. They are proceeding hesitantly; giving you the impression that the crutches may be quite new. You follow slowly at a safe 2 meter social distance.
At the end of the hall is a heavy door. The person struggles with it. What do you do?
Do you need to think about it? Or do you know immediately what you would do?
Would you say, “That’s a ridiculous question. Of course, I would go ahead and open the door for a person in difficulty because compassion is essential.”
Or, you might say, “That’s a ridiculous question. Of course, I would stay behind and maintain a 2 meter distance because safety is paramount.”
You’ll notice that both of my theoretical answers began with, “That’s a ridiculous question.” No matter what you believe, if you are certain that your perspective is the right one, any other perspective can seem ridiculous.
The reality is that we can justify either position. Depending on your values and beliefs, one option may far outweigh the other when you determine the “right” answer.
Isn’t that often the way when we choose? The possible alternatives are seldom perfectly equal. Rather, one choice provides specific positives and negatives. Another choice offers different positives and negatives. We weigh those competing alternatives and make a rational decision. At least, many of us believe that this is what we do.
Within our decision is the reality that we make trade-offs. We can’t get everything we want, so we choose what we believe to be the best trade-off.
Just to be clear, the best trade-off doesn’t necessarily bring you the greatest gain. It could involve sacrificing something of yours to give to someone else, if that corresponds to what is satisfying for you. When you make a donation, for example, you give up your money or goods and gain the satisfying feeling of acting in harmony with your values and beliefs.
You are probably aware of trade-offs when you buy something. For example, if I’m in the market for a phone, I can compare the trade-offs: operating system, specs, price, etc. Then I can weigh the costs and benefits and make a decision.
However, trade-offs are at play in other decisions, too.
For example, exercise may be a time-consuming pain now but we trade that against a healthier future. Going to work can be inconvenient and unsatisfying, but we trade that off for money, security, recognition, etc. And the choice to let an unkind comment go versus lashing out is a trade-off that most anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship has at least considered. (I hope.)
I think that many disagreements can come down to different perceptions of the value of different trade-offs. Different values and perceptions will lead to different choices.
Now, let’s return to the case of the walker on crutches. Would you open the door? Or would you hang back? And, what’s your perception of someone who would choose differently from you?

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