Why We Make the Decisions We Do

The mind is a complicated beast. Attempting to understand it a bit more, I took Psych 101 freshman year in college and nearly failed out. But I was an A student in philosophy! Not sure what that means: I’m more comfortable pontificating than diagnosing? Well I’m going to both pontificate and diagnose right now. The subject? A pre-adolescent boys baseball clinic incident.

Every Tuesday afternoon, Frank, my 9-year-old, and a bunch of his friends whom he’s known for years play baseball with (let’s call him) Coach Tim. No real instruction – they get that from their respective Little League team coaches – they just pick teams and play a game. While it’s pretty informal, it’s also a bunch of fairly athletic and competitive kids, so it can get heated. This past Tuesday, Frank’s best friend (let’s call him Chris) slid into second after the second baseman had already stepped on the base, and almost hurt him badly. As he had no chance of being safe, it appeared he was trying to cause intentional harm. While Chris later admitted he was trying to stop the double play, I don’t believe he did the now-retrospective math that stopping double play = injury to friend. That said, Coach Tim should probably have sat Chris out the next inning or even the rest of the game as a warning and lesson to all. Instead, he asked the kids to vote by closing their eyes, putting up one finger if Chris should stay in and two fingers if he should be taken out. The verdict: Chris was kicked out of the game. And he left crying. Only two kids attempted to console him, one of whom was the second baseman and the other was… not Frank.

As you’re likely thinking right now, it’s ridiculous to have 9-year-olds voting on whether to kick their friend out of a game; what could have been a done deal had it been handled differently is now festering at school as I type. But as this is the situation, I am now asking myself why Frank voted as he did. I’m not angry about the vote, but I’m suspicious of the reason why, and I’m super disappointed in how he’s handled the aftermath. Why won’t he help support and console his best friend, still reeling from everything that happened, as others are doing? And worse, why is he fueling the chatter about it, rather than ignoring or deflecting it? He’s adamant (with an obnoxiously righteous tone) it’s because Chris could have seriously injured another friend of theirs.

I don’t buy it.

Frank is a good kid, but he’s never been one to… ahem… protest in the name of safety. His behavior since this happened suggests there’s something else at play: he likes the drama, and he likes that it’s someone other than he in the center of it. What’s unclear to me is whether he knows that’s what’s happening, or if he believes his rationale.

Our decision-making process is almost always more complicated than we realize. For example, giving to charity is not a selfless decision, because we gain something from it too: it makes us feel good. Taking that further, think about when you’re asked if you want your name listed as having donated to a cause. I will admit I always struggle with that question: I don’t want to be seen as needing recognition but… I like the recognition! Or have you ever worked on a project but neglected to consult a decision-maker at the beginning? When he doesn’t provide approval at the end, is his reasoning pure, or is it because he wasn’t consulted earlier? Likely a combination of the two, no matter what he tells you (or himself, for that matter.) And how do we explain paying an enormous premium for a commodity item like diapers? Some will admit it’s because they like seeing their baby’s bum in adorable Pampers, but many will tell you it’s because they’re higher quality. This is marketing hard at work, folks. Decision-making interrogation is part of what reveals the juicy, not-obvious-on-the-surface insights that lead to great advertising. And we are all victims! (Thank God, or else I wouldn’t have a career.)

In Frank’s case, he’s using a strong rationale as an excuse for his decision, but it’s definitely not the full story. What he is failing to realize is that he will be in Chris’ shoes some day, and he’s going to regret not handling this situation differently. Paying more attention to why you make the decisions you do will inevitably lead to better, more informed ones down the line. Perhaps it’s a lot to ask of a nine-year-old, but a lot of adults could do well to practice this more often, myself included.


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