julie: on connecting the dots

I love connecting the dots.  It’s how I was taught to reason and how I make things that confuse me make sense; find the facts, find the best proof and the best arguments, apply applicable laws and history and experience and then, having done all of this, reach the most logical conclusion.  I do it without thinking about doing it most of the time, although every now and then, especially when in situations with one or two specific friends I will say to myself, “Okay, settle down,  think about this logically.”    It wasn’t until recently I really grasped that for many people this does not define “thinking”.  I am amazed that what seems like the normal way of looking at things  for me is considered a separate kind of thing,  “critical thinking,” and is choice that many people are comfortable rejecting in part or in its entirety.  Fascinating to me when someone takes a whole bunch of opinions, calls them  “facts,” then makes a decision and calls it “the only logical conclusion.”  Logic has very little to do with much of the connecting of the dots going on in this country today, JMO.

Which is not to say that I am not capable of not thinking critically; I have made many decisions that defy logic.  And quite frankly, those include most of my worst decisions.  But I knew going in, as I made them, that I was making them based on what I wanted to be true, or hoped would work out, and so I knew, even as I made them, that there was a good  probability they were certainly not going to lead to what I would obstinately insist was a predictable outcome.  And I also knew that the outcome of this kind of decision might not be really so good.  I knew that, I acknowledged that, I didn’t claim as I hear so many people doing, that I was actually connecting the dots.  I knew that I was hoping that somehow I could make the dots a little different and after that, that the dots would do what I wanted them to do.

The point I am making is even though I don’t always go with logic, even when I really know better,  I am usually aware that I am not being logical.  After years of watching myself go back and forth between doing logical and illogical things, I find that for me, one is basically devoid of feeling and the other mostly all feeling.  This makes me want to conclude that in my brain logic and feelings are two separate things that have nothing to do with each other and that looking at the same decision from the two vantage points will never result in similar decisions.  Yet this  isn’t entirely true; some things that are purely emotional do have a logic, it just isn’t tangible in the same way.  Emotions, and the actions we take as a result of those emotions, are a result of connecting dots, they are just totally different dots than the ones that are proven with facts and figures.   History is often very reliable when it comes to emotional dots.

I’m sure there are some that would make the argument that I learned to think one way from my father and the other from my mother, but that would not be really as clear cut some might think.  It’s true, a  huge portion of my mother’s decisions, maybe the vast majority,  were quick and emotion-filled, she absolutely made most of her decisions that way. Maybe the fact that she seemed to make some really good decisions using that method was simply due to sheer volume and the law of averages.  I don’t think that’s true but, except to my father and my little sister, I have always been willing to concede the possibility.  Unlike my father, she did at times appear to mix logical and emotional thinking really well and make an incredible decision and if you believed her, it had nothing to do with luck and was never by accident.  My father, the Yeshiva trained logician, also sometimes made emotion-filled decisions.  Those decisions, I can state with no hesitation, were some of the worst decisions I have ever known a human being to make.   I wondered sometimes if having to be so damn logical and unemotional in his thinking for so long caused him to end up being unable to make rational decisions about emotions on any level.  My father’s way of thinking and making decisions served him well in many aspects of his life, he achieved much of what he wanted.  Unfortunately,  my father also caused considerable pain along the way.  My mother’s methods didn’t do nearly as well by her which makes me sad, she played from the heart and that should have really counted for more than it seems it did.

So I learned a little about decision making of several kinds from both of them; all very interesting if you are interested in how I reach conclusions.   I am interested in that right now.  I need to make a couple of important decisions and I want to be sure I am thinking about them clearly.  I am also wondering if what I am really doing is trying not to acknowledge the variables, avoid the things that make the decisions necessary, so  I am reminding myself that’s not good and should not be confused with the sometimes good intentional not making of decisions.  The not making of decisions is something it took me a while to learn really made sense and should always be an option I consider, just sort of abdicating and removing myself and letting a situation do whatever it’s going to.  That’s actually sometimes the best decision because often what I decide doesn’t make a damn bit of difference and learning to recognize when that’s the reality of a situation is a really important part of learning to make good decisions.  Deciding that you should not make the decision, or even be a part of making a decision, is a really important decision.  Part of why it took me so long to get that concept was that I spent a lot of time trying to accept the idea that deciding it was best not to express my opinion was not the same as saying I just shouldn’t have an opinion.  I have reached the point where I do actually sometimes not have an opinion; rarely, but it does happen.

I haven’t made any changes to my decisions.  I know I said that I needed to make them, but the truth is that most of the time I make decisions at the same time I am learning I will need to make one.  (In an odd way it sort reminds me of the gravedigger starting to dig the moment we are born.)  I think many of us do that and just don’t realize it.  We are generally going to react to certain things in certain ways and that is going to influence much of what we decide about any given situation.  I think often times I make an immediate decision and then work my way back, making sure of what method I used to get there.  The reasoning my father taught me: the comparative, the relative, the culpability and the consequences,  these usually are instinctive parts of the way I look at things.  The question is how much the heart and spirit my mother gave me will temper that cool and calculating process, will the ying or the yang carry the most weight today.

Funny thing about my parents, they both were always very sure that they were right about most things, though they appeared to never agree about anything.  And they both hated to lose.  Which maybe just goes to show that there is a very fine line between the motives of emotion and logic.

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Just a note here about Ginny’s post.  Some of it is a conversation between the two of us that did not start out as anything more than that, was not designed or written for the blog or with the thought that anyone else would read it.  So there are some things that I said in a much more cryptic way, to simply make a point but not with elaborate explanation of anything.  I want to just make sure that I say that the family I referred to as “my parents oldest friends,” are also my oldest friends.  I recited just a little of what has happened in those lives and with not a huge amount of emotion, but that should not mislead the reader, it breaks my heart that these wonderful people have had so many trials with their children.  I would like to also make the point about their son that over time he was able, through therapy and medication and much determination and love, to be really helpful and good to his parents.  I absolutely considered him a friend.  He and my son got along well.  It was so sad that once they all found that place, that way to live, it didn’t last.  But it’s nice that was how things were for some time.  

And then I would like to point out in general, and to Ginny in specific, the fact that this week she was the one at least as much involved, but I would say the one much more involved, with the world around her.  I have to admit that I am one of those people who is not rocked really hard by these random moments that are becoming more and more frequent when people shoot into crowds.  I feel much sadness for the victims and the survivors and the family of the perpetrator.  But it doesn’t scare me or make me stop and think twice, I don’t know, maybe I believe that life is random or that we are no more or less safe after something like this than we were before.  Or maybe I already know what evil lurks in the heart of man and am not surprised when or how it lurks in the heart of anyone.  Or maybe it is simply that there is little to be done.  If the increase in this kind of thing is the result of many things in our country, that’s just how it is, they will happen from time to time, there is nothing to do something about, no actions I can take as an individual to change anything.  So maybe that’s part of it, maybe the whole lesson of worrying less about things I can’t change and doing more about those I can is really the key here.  (Not to  make light of anything, but the truth is that approximately three people are killed every hour of every day by gun violence in this country, that is something I think I have more of a chance of doing something about.) 

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