consequences

I’m a rebel. However, you may not know that (though you may have suspected it) because a lot of — maybe too many of — my seemingly “rebellious” actions over the years have been tempered by two things: expectations and consequences. In fact, I think — for better or for worse — a lot of the decisions I make in my life have to do with the consequences of the possible outcomes of making certain decisions (especially the “rebellious” ones).

I think growing up it was probably mostly others’ expectations that caused me to act in certain ways — or, to put it another way, the “fear” of the possible consequences if I didn’t do what was expected of me. (I put “fear” in quotations here because I wasn’t afraid like one is afraid of punishment or monsters, but more fear in an abstract sense of not wanting to let anyone down.) I stayed away from certain parties b/c I knew there would be alcohol, and that’s just not what was expected of me. Getting A’s was what was expected, and I didn’t want to mess that up either. I’m not saying this was good or bad, but it’s probably my — logic.

Even decisions I make now I know I make because of the consequences. If I choose not to download music for free, it’s because I know there could be thousand of dollars in penalties waiting in the wings. If I don’t smoke marijuana, it may have a little to do with being caught and paying a fine (and maybe still some of those expectations), but more that it’s possible Mary Jane might trigger psychotic illnesses (and then I use Google to help spell Alzheimer’s and see that marijuana my actually help with that disease — go figure).

Sometimes it’s dumb not to make decisions based on possible consequences — like always buckling up in a car or wearing my helmet while biking — but am I in a healthy place in terms of how I make decisions? Part of it, too, is that there have definitely been times (some very recently) where I’ve made decisions without thinking at all about the possible (negative) consequences, and the outcomes have not at all been what I had hoped for in the situation.

So what really are good ways to make decisions? Should I continue to think about the consequences, but only as one part of the puzzle? And if so, what other things do I need to take into consideration? Am I not taking enough risks?(I’m sure some of you would answer with a strong “are you kidding me?”) Is there some point where a person can just let their decisions happen and accept the outcome, no matter what it might be?

On a bit of a related note, I’m attempting to start living my life (especially relationally) with more of a “non-attachment to the outcome” philosophy. How does that relate to decision making and thinking about consequences? Perhaps a topic for another blog (or some of your comments).

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One Response to consequences

  1. Karen S. says:

    Eric, I’m not sure what you mean by “non-attachment to the outcome.” Awareness of consequences is usually wise–probably a survival mechanism. But here’s something to consider: when you think of “consequences” do you generally mean intrinsic or extrinsic effects? I’ve sometimes used a book called _Why We Do What We Do_ by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan–it’s a popular version of their more academic research on motivation. Deci’s career work has focused on motivation, and his central idea is that intrinsic motivation is healthiest: not the desire for reward like grades or money or status, and not the fear of punishments like grades or jail or beatings, but the inherent pleasure of doing something. He cites a study in which subjects are asked to solve a puzzle over and over. They do, and they enjoy doing so. Then the experimenters start paying them $1 every time they succeed. The subjects enjoy the puzzle-solving less; they work for the reward. Then the experimenters stop paying them, and the subjects don’t want to do the puzzles at all.
    School does this same thing for lots of people: kids have an innate curiosity and eagerness to learn. School adds structure, rewards, punishments, and you and I both know lots of college students who are so conditioned to want the grade that they focus only on points and not on the satisfaction of learning or discovering. They won’t take risks, they can’t take pleasure. It’s all about fear of failure and love of the rewards of success. You yourself avoided getting drunk at parties not primarily because you loved being lucid or disliked the feeling of dizziness, but because you feared external consequences–embarrassment, punishment, etc. You weren’t focused on intrinsic motivation–or on internal consequences–but on external factors. On the other hand, it does make sense to avoid pot out of fear of natural consequences like the increased risk of mental illness. That, to me, is a sign of healthy maturity.
    So I don’t think consequences are meaningless, but I do think we could all do a better job of thinking about direct and real consequences and refusing to be controlled by more distant and less healthy motivators. (Deci calls that autonomy. Not that one person’s actions have no bearing on others, but that each person looks inside rather than outside for motivation. Inside, one might even find issues like wanting healthy relationships with one’s loved ones.)
    A related, not quite as good book: Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn. And an inspiring, witty, brilliant and relevant talk you’ll want to read, whether or not you ever look for those books:
    http://www.calvin.edu/academic/honors/special_events/honors_convoc/2007/saupespeech.htm
    Cheers!

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