Thursday, January 7, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The process of decision making is on my mind today. This is probably because this morning at 5:10 am the phone rang. When I answered I heard a recorded message from our school district saying that classes were cancelled today due to inclement weather. Really? I wandered over to the door, stepping over dogs who thought it was too early to be awake whether there was school or not. The instant I opened the door, the frigid air from the arctic air that made its way into North Texas last night greeted me. It was definitely cold, 20 degrees with a wind chill around 5 degrees, but other than that I could not see any real “inclement weather.” Like many other parents who had awakened to the early morning call that gave their kids a day to sleep in, we turned on the TV to see what was really going on.
The story seems to be that about 4 am this morning a light mist began falling in our area. Because it is so cold here, the moisture immediately froze creating a thin layer of solid ice on the roads. Faced with this overnight development, school administrators had to make a relatively quick decision with regard to school today. This decision is made based on the safety of running the school buses, and in today’s case, it was decided that it would be hazardous to run the buses this morning. Several surrounding school districts made the same decision. The one in which Weber teaches was not one of them. We watched the continual list of school closures scroll across the bottom of the TV screen as the local media showed video footage of accidents all over the major highways in the area. Weber decided to leave for school quite a bit earlier than usual to allow himself plenty of time to navigate the seemingly difficult roadways. After sitting in the car listening to more news and traffic reports for twenty minutes while waiting for the windshield to defrost, which it never did, he made the decision to call school and tell them that he would be late. This was not an easy decision for him just as I’m sure the decision to close schools in Denton was not easy for those who had to make it.

What is it that happens when we make decisions? What is it that makes a decision easy? Or hard? What is a good decision or a bad decision? A right decision or a wrong decision?

Making a decision usually involves weighing the pros and cons of one choice over another. The best decision is assumed to be the one that has the most pros. This seems like a fairly simple process. So why do we talk about something being an easy decision or a hard decision? I don’t think that the difficulty comes in making a decision once the pros and cons are listed, but in many situations it is hard to identify what the pros and cons really are. In determining both pros and cons, both the short term and the long term effects must be considered. With regard to these effects, we must also realize that something may be a pro for one group of people and a con for another. The decision becomes difficult when someone must decide which group’s interest is more important. And thus, the potential exists for a decision to be perceived as both good and bad simultaneously.. A decision seems easy when you are only able to see one side, one perspective in a situation. If you have the ability to look at something from many different angles, identifying pros and cons becomes more difficult. In the end, the judgment as to whether a decision was either good or bad often can’t really be made. Sometimes things simply are what they are based on what was known and thought at the time the decision was made. External situations to the original decision-making process may change one’s long term perception as to whether a decision was either good or bad. Remember the whole WMD scandal!

Was it a good decision to cancel school this morning? If the decision was based on trying to avoid children being injured because buses would have trouble on the roads, then the right decision was made. If you are the parent of a child who can’t stay home alone and you still have to be at work today then you probably think the wrong decision was made. If you are a high school student who at 9:30 is still in bed, with permission, on a school day, then you probably think that the right decision was made. If you are that same high school student who is not in bed on the Monday after Easter, which should be a holiday, because you are making up today’s snow day, you may rethink whether today’s decision was a good one. There is that long term effect that I mentioned.

Weber left an hour and half later than usual and had no problems at all getting to school. Was it a good or a bad decision to leave late? In that hour an half difference, the precipitation stopped, the wind blew constantly at 30 mph drying the roads, the sun came up, and those that had no choice about being on the roads early had worn much of the ice away. He arrived at school late but without any problems so his was probably a good decision – unless the teacher who had his class for the first part of the morning is found tied to a chair or stuffed in a locker. Then, the whole issue of it being a good or bad decision may be up for debate.

If decision-making is given the attention it deserves, no decision is ever really easy. If it were easy, there would not be a decision. You would have simply made a choice. When faced with making a decision, give it the time and energy it deserves. And before you criticize the decisions of others, put yourself in their shoes. It is easy to “make a decision” when you are not the one who will carry the burden of its consequences.