A few days ago, I learned that a very plainspoken and plainly-clothed elderly man that I knew as a nice guy and a person of good humor was actually a multi-millionaire, along with his wife. It turns out that he and his wife had, at the age of about twenty six, chosen to start living off of half of their annual income and put the rest in the bank. Whenever a paycheck came in, they split it in half immediately and then learned to operate solely on half of their income. I also learned that he had written a large check to a local charity recently. He had a level of wisdom and personal character that I hadn’t given to him.
I recalled some of the many conversations I’ve had with this guy. I remember being on a committee with him where he made an impassioned argument in favor of spending significantly more on a facilities project in order to do it right so that it would last fifty years. I also remember being on the other side of that debate, as I felt we simply didn’t have the resources to do it at the moment. He insisted that we could make it work.
I didn’t really listen to his arguments, in other words. I wrote him off.
The same thing happened recently with my youngest son. He had just gone to the bathroom and about five minutes later, he came to me and said he needed to go to the bathroom again. We were embarking on a walk, so when he told me this we were several blocks from home and still had many more to go to reach the park. He was urgently pointing back to the house.
He told me he had to go badly. I told him that he needed to hold it a bit longer until we got to the park. He held it for about four more blocks… then he had an accident. We could have made it back to the house.
I didn’t really listen to his arguments. I wrote him off.
One of the hardest challenges of modern life is balancing the need to make the right decision with the need to make a fast decision. Because so much of our life relies on making snap decisions, we carry the need to make those snap decisions into other places in our life where those snap decisions don’t need to be.
Sometimes, life rewards us when we step back for a moment and listen to what the people in our lives are actually telling us. We’re often so caught up in our own ideas and our own preconceptions and our own needs that we miss out on the message that others are trying to deliver to us.
One of the easiest tools we use to cut people out is by judging the messenger. We’ll ignore information from someone because of their age or because of some other aspect about them. We’ll ignore hard facts from any source because they don’t match what we’ve already decided. We think we know better.
Often, we don’t.
The best solution for all of us is to simply move to a point where we don’t treat all decisions as snap decisions. Rather than making up our minds about a financial decision quickly, we let it rest for a while and get lots of different opinions. Rather than making up our minds about a political decision, we listen to lots of different voices and make up our minds slowly rather than instantaneously.
Rather than just buying that item right now, put it back on the shelf and reflect on whether you actually need it and whether it’s the best item.
Rather than subscribing to a political idea right now, find lots of viewpoints and perspectives on that issue and actually learn about it before making up your mind.
Rather than making an instant decision with your kids, stop for a few seconds and ask yourself what the true downsides and upsides of each angle of the decision are.
Rather than immediately judging a person based on the evidence you see at first glance, hold off on that judgment. Learn more about the person. You might simply have seen this person at an inopportune moment or been a witness to an event you didn’t fully understand.
It is almost always better to get the right answer than to get the quick answer. So often, we apply urgency to something that isn’t urgent and by doing that, we undermine the importance of getting it right.
Whenever you’re about to make a decision that isn’t pure instinct, don’t rush into it. Stop yourself for a moment and ask whether or not this is really something you need to be doing. If you’re not sure, make your decision later. Give yourself some real time to make up your mind about it, but actually do that. Investigate the decision carefully and figure out what the right answer is, then stick with that. Not only is it a good tactic for managing your purchasing and financial decisions, it’s a good tactic for judging people and situations better.