08 April 2008

Shaving with the Razor

all links will go to the Wikipedia article on the subject

I've had reason to consider Occam's Razor lately, although only a few friends are likely to understand why. The Razor is commonly given in English as: "All things being equal, the simplest solution is the most likely.", and it is used to help cut through superfluous arguments.

I've long believed that it important for a person to have at least a vague philosophy, the more clear, the better. Although one might call my attempt to live my life according to the tenants of a twelve step program a philosophy, I'm not sure that it is actually a philosophy, it is more of a way of living. It might be a philosophy in the way that Buddhism is a religion. If one were to ask me what it means to live a twelve step based life, I would say it is one of continual self-examination and improvement.

This process of self-examination and improvement has a downside, literally, for it can bring one down, emotionally. Continual self-examination and a desire for improvement can lead one to focus on the negative aspects of ones personality. Although true self-examination would allow us to see the good that we do, and the good that we are. Honest self-examination would also remind us of how far we have come. In addition, twelve steppers can get caught up in living "One Day at a Time" can lose focus on the bigger picture of life.

I am also a Christian. This means so many things to so many people there is no point in even beginning a discussion about it. What it means to me (arguers, start your engines) is having a life based on the words and actions of Christ. WWJD sums it up pretty well, what would Jesus do? Those answers can be found in the Gospels, interpret or literalize as you will.

So, here I am, a Christian who attempts to live a life based on the twelve step program principles (for those familiar with the history of the twelve step program, I know this is mostly redundant). These two things taken together, or separately, still point to having a life of thoughtful consideration. This is a huge potential stumbling block, as it is so easy to get dragged into an overthinking lifestyle; I do it; many of my friends do it as well.

So now what? An interesting question. Thoreau said "...simplify, simplify, simplify...", Einstein said "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.", and of course there is The Razor sitting there, waiting to cut through all of the *insert smelly metaphor here*, and arrive at a conclusion. I have often said I got my thought processes from my father... 10 bazillion shades of gray, and my decision making from my mother... black and white. Life however is neither all grays, nor black and white, it is colorful.

Colors aside, life can be black and white, i.e. binary, in this way: you DO or you DO NOT. You take an action or you fail to take an action. You choose to support an idea or person, or you choose not to do so. Making no choice, taking no action, even if it is because you are paralyzed by overthinking ... is still a choice, it is still an inaction, albeit a passive one. I have found, both by observation and by my own experience, that my asserting a choice and or action is better in the long run for me, even if I fail, than it is for me to passively wait around and let someone else decide what my life is going to be like.

I love this story about myself. I was walking my dog early on a Sunday morning. I came around a corner, and there on the ground practically at my feet, was a $20 bill. My first thought: "do what is right according to the twelve step way of life". That seems simple enough, you give the $20 back to the person it belongs to. I look around and I see absolutely no one. Not only no one, but there are no tracks in the dew, and no wind so there is no telling where it could have come from. No problem, what would Jesus do: that's very simple He would ... um, wait, what would Jesus do? Jesus didn't need any money and if He needed money, He would just have one of His disciples go fishing and pull a coin out of a fishes mouth, or something like that. I must have sat and stared at that $20 on the ground for three or four minutes. I was paralyzed with trying to figure out the right thing to do with an unowned $20 on the ground. Cherokee tugged on the end of the leash and I snapped back to the world. I thought of a friend I admired, Mark. I said out loud "what would Mark do?" The solution was instantaneously apparent, I picked up the $20 bill and I used it later to cover (most of) dinner for a myself and a couple friends. Simplicity itself.

Life, my life, has many difficult choices, some of them very difficult, with convoluted ethical issues where right and wrong can be applied from several different directions (such as what to do about my housing situation), or some where neither right and wrong apply at all (such as what makes a good girlfriend), and some that paralyze me end up being a choice between two pretty good things (like donuts or pancakes for breakfast). On this last type, I would do well to keep in mind that despite what Buridan said, the donkey will not starve to death between two equally tempting piles of hay, it will, as nature mostly does, apply a reasonably simple solution: the donkey will go and eat one pile of hay, and then it will eat the other (probably switching piles back and forth several times). I admit I have put much time and thought into several issues in my life, including first two above, which if The Razor had been applied could have saved me considerable consternation. After all, the simplest solution is often the best ... and the least stressful.

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