Growing up we took so many multiple choice tests. Being graded on the right answers we chose. Conditioning us to believe that coming up with the “right answer” not only has value but infers that any different answer is wrong. “Right” implying that only one answer can be correct and absolute.
This approach, when learning facts and to understand concepts, has benefit in measuring a child’s understanding and knowledge in a subject area. Guiding them to see areas where they need to put in more effort or time to understand the content better.
But in life, is there ever a right answer? Does “right answer” even fit into our daily struggles?
What’s confusing about these questions is how we have evolved into sharing our opinions on multiple topics with the emphasis on “we are right”. That what we say or believe is right. And that others are wrong. We default to believing we are always right instead of being open to the question of why or how we might be wrong. This requires a great deal of humility combined with the skill to be willing and open to listen and evaluate differing points of view.
But how does life fit into this? Resembling a river, life never rests. It always changes. Things important today are simply not tomorrow. Today may be smooth but the next week things change. Accident, illness or death forces us in a different direction. People change. Pressures increase and decrease. Expectations change. We evolve. Someone’s now upset. Another person disappoints us for not completing what was asked of them. Especially when “stuff” involves family.
Amidst this turbulence in life, we can’t “make” right answers. Right answers don’t make sense for us to pursue because everything in and around our life is continually changing. (Facts do not change when asked about them on a multiple choice test.)
We make choices. With incomplete information. Based on what we see around us today. Never knowing what exactly will happen tomorrow or what will change a month from now. Giving every choice our best effort with some working out. While others don’t.
Choices consist of exploring tradeoffs and assessing downside risk if we are wrong. Trying to be one step ahead by thinking about the second order effects of a choice. We may fix something (first order effect) but then frustrate the three people that work in this area (2nd order effect). Once understanding this, we begin to see that all of our thinking is imperfect.
There are better and worse choices. Never clear to us up front. Only revealed to us over time. Where right answers on tests are immediate and clear. Because there are many paths to get somewhere, different choices could very well lead you in the same direction. With varying degrees of success.
To be clear, choice is never as binary as we think. Where we believe there is only one right way. The fluidity of life negates this possibility. Giving us many opportunities to improve or change our situation. No matter our level of skill or understanding. Admittedly, to a wider range of potential outcomes (both good or bad).
The mistake we make is confusing what we believe to be a right answer or right choice (by judging it so up front before implementing) versus understanding we are simply making a choice that may or may not work out. Hopefully, one that is informed by knowledge and understanding leading to a more effective outcome.
Then combining this with the wisdom to understand, that no matter what the choice and outcome, most of our choices will likely need more work, adjustment or abandonment as we see their effects unfold in our world.