6/3/2017 09:56

Tell Me What To Do

We all grow up wanting to be in charge of our own lives. From the Terrible Twos until we are chucked out on our own at 18 or 21 or 26 the mantra to our parents is, "Don't tell me what to do. I want to decide for myself."

Except when I don't.

This week the school year ended. Every Tuesday of the week (and, for the past few months, every Second Tuesday of the week as well) I have walked to West High School and offered to help teenaged students with their assignments, whatever assignments they take out to work on. So my time at school has been structured directly by the students and indirectly by their teachers, their parents, and the social milieu of the public school system.

This week the school year ended. With that I lost external direction over 6 hours of my time every week. By Thursday morning I found myself anxious about how I would fill my time next Tuesday. It is silly to be anxious and sillier to be anxious about potential problems which will certainly not appear for 5 days and which past experience has shown are unlikely to manifest at all. School ends every year and I've never run out of things to do on Tuesdays.

As Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert wrote in the article "A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind" (Science, 12 November 2010).

Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all.

I want to be able to decide what to do on Tuesdays over the summer. But then again I don't want to have to decide. Is it a nice day for a bike ride? Do I have a good book to read in the shade of the backyard? Does my dog want to take a walk? Am I finally going to write my exposition of the Good News According to John? Are the floors so filthy that even I want to clean them?

I find that there are too many choices and too little way to decide which is "right". How can you play the game if you spend your time deciding what the game will be today? How do you know the rules of the game unless someone is telling them to you?

In actual reality making decisions is hard work. We humans are built to want the opportunity to make decisions, but that doesn't equate to wanting to make all the possible decisions. For the rest, we insist on relying on custom or social trends or whatever the person next to us has decided.

In actual reality going along with the opinions of the people near us is often a successful play, so we are built to avoid the costs of unnecessary decision making. When that propinquity is lost, we face the sudden hard work of making our own decisions. No wonder there is inner turmoil.

In actual reality we'd really rather not work so hard.

We're happy enough if we believe that we could make our own decisions, if we should ever decide that we want to. Until then, tell me what to do.