Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Make Up Your Mind Already

Stacy Snyder - parentunplugged - Make Up Your Mind - street sign which way to go?
When it comes to making decisions, I teach my kids to consider their options thoughtfully, but ultimately, to make a decision, any decision, even if it’s wrong, instead of waffling indefinitely, as it builds character.  We can learn through both positive and negative results in decision-making.  If you choose the red lollipop instead of the yellow one and you like it, you know you like the cherry flavor and will know to choose it again next time or decide you want to try something new.  Lesson learned.  If you have the option of swimming at the indoor pool or at the beach, and you choose the beach and it rains, forcing the beaches to close, it teaches you that weather is a factor in outdoor activities and can always make or break an outing.  It teaches you risk factoring.  Again, lesson learned.

When gauging a decision, I try to teach my children to trust their guts and go with the first answer that comes to their mind, as it’s usually the best one.  It’s harder with kids, because they don’t have the same level of accumulated knowledge as adults have, so sometimes their instincts are wrong.  I think we all naturally, when given a choice, gravitate toward the prettier, more handsome options, based on surface appraisal.  As we age, though, we develop knowledge that teaches us sometimes otherwise.  A five-year-old will most likely always choose a whole crayon over a broken one, whereas an older child or adult may choose the crayon based on the color, because they realize it can still be valuable.  Similarly, a teen may naturally be initially romantically attracted to a good-looking kid first, before considering the personality, whereas a young adult may look for security and trustworthiness in a mate before considering other attributes, and an even older person, who has been widowed mid-life, may not even consider any of the above, but use the prerequisite of living life to the fullest each day as a criteria to find a mate. 

We change how we make decisions as we get older and accumulate experiences.  When faced with the decision to stay out all night and go straight to work the next morning after a late night of drinking or going home and getting a few hours of shut-eye before heading off to work, a 22-year old may choose to stay out, as the consequences aren’t too life-altering for a young single.  When faced with the same decision at 45, though, most middle-aged adults would choose to go home and get the sleep, as experience has shown that function ability will be at a standstill the next day. 

If you subscribe to that school of thought, you’d assume that as we get older, we tend to get better at making decisions as well.  Because we have learned from our accumulated experiences, we know who to trust, what to expect in terms of consequences for our decisions, when to anticipate problems, where to look for inaccuracies in our reasoning, and why we make the decisions we make.  It’s definitely true for me and most of the folks I’ve grown up with and currently affiliate myself with. 

This must not be true for all, though, as I’ve been shocked to witness the unpredictable decision-making method of the seventy-some-year-old man who owns the building we live in.  At first I thought I had just misjudged this kindly man who had shown so much pride in the unit he rented to us a few years ago.  He claimed that his father had immaculately polished and maintained the woodwork each week and that later in life he took over the job himself.  After moving in and requesting a few broken items to be repaired, we got a mouthful of venom from the owner, telling us we could just pack our stuff and leave if we needed to have the stuff fixed.  Since he snapped, we quickly learned to fix whatever needed repaired ourselves, and deduct it from the rent.  While our first assessment was that he was certifiably crazy, we went on to psychoanalyze him and finally deducted that his issue was that he didn’t like making decisions.  If presented a problem, he didn’t know what to do first.  Should he call the woodworking guy to fix the window carpentry first or call the repair-main to get a custom piece of glass first?  Unable to decide, he would usually resort to doing nothing.  Should he repair or replace the roof that is leaking water into the 2nd floor unit, or take care of getting new drain tiles for the basement that looks like a piece of Swiss cheese when it rains, with water pouring out of every divot?  Since he couldn’t figure out a way to decide, he’d do nothing and let damage continue to accumulate. 

We maintained a doable relationship for 2 years, where we’d fix anything that came up in regards to repairs. Appliance repair and replacement?  No problem, we've got it covered.  Replacing 20-year-old mini-blinds?  No issue at all.  Done.  New door handle to fit into the existing hole in the entry door?  We trolled antique and resale shops for months before finding the right one, but we're finally good. Then last month, he showed both of the apartments in the building to a woman brandishing a tape measure, with a small child in tow.  It didn’t look good for us, as he told us later that he’d received an unsolicited offer for purchase from the woman, and that he was considering the offer.  Even though he said he wasn’t sure if he was ready to sell, the next day he slipped a hand-written note in block letters under our door, letting us know he was not renewing our lease, which was expiring in 3 days time.  Bummed that we didn’t get the opportunity to present an offer of our own to him for the building, as we’d always talked about buying it if he ever decided to sell, we started looking in earnest for a new place to live.  Two weeks later, we were preparing to submit an offer on another building when we received a call from the landlord, telling us he was making his decision tomorrow and he was tired of dealing with this and he wanted to be done with this building.  He told us that if we wanted to submit an offer to buy the building, we’d better put our best foot forward and present it to him the next day.  We jumped through hoops and did just that, only to have him tell us he had no idea what he wanted to do and that he may decide to keep the building and rent it or move back into it himself!  To him I’ll say the same thing I say to my kids, but usually in more palatable language, shit or get off the pot!

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