17 September 2021

Over the past couple of years I’ve realized that his has become the example that I give people when I say that there is a fine but fundamental difference between some terms. I’ve gotten to a point where I can do it in Spanish (escoger vs decidir), Italian (scegliere vs decidere) or German (auswählen vs entscheiden). So what’s this fundamental difference?

Here we go

Choosing

Picture this: you’re in a situation where you have to choose between this thing or that thing. Between this action or that action, or perhaps even between doing and not doing. What do you do?

It can obviously be a bit paralyzing. On the one hand… on the other hand…

The problem that I see here is that it’s a binary, It apparently can only be this or that. And the paralysis becomes worse when there are more than two options (in case that was going to be someone’s counter-argument here). The problem that I see with “choosing” is that it is inherently external. You are given these options. Presented with them. Yes, you can be the one who presents two or more choices, so they can in that sense become internal, but the issue is that choices are something that you have to dig deeper into. You have to analyze each and every aspect of this option, that option, or those choices. Again, it’s paralyzing.

Deciding

Now image you’re asked to make a decision.
Some would claim that “it’s the same thing“. But before you choose that path, let’s dig deeper here.

Have you ever made a decision that goes against the grain? That challenges conventional wisdom or knowledge?
Why did you do it? What was the motivation for choosing an unpopular choice?

And that is where we hit the crux of this issue.

A decision, a true decision, is internal.
Even if/when it starts off as a choice, it becomes a decision when you embrace it and own it.

“But then it’s not really a decision! If it was a choice and then it became a decision, then decisions are nothing more than choices!”
You are right there. And that is precisely why there is a fundamental difference between a choice and a decision. Let me show you in a diagram.

©Sonderbodhi

Perhaps the easiest way to explain this is by saying that there is theoretically no conflict between choices and decisions until/unless you are presented with a split path between two [or more] options/choices. If you are deciding to do something, you are “just doing it”. Unless of course there was an alternative, in which case it could be seen as a choice. Alternatively, if you have two choices but you always knew you wanted one and not the other, then it’s really no choice at all, and that makes it easier to decide.

And yet just in those last two sentences, we are able to see the difference between choices and decisions.

The Middle Path?

In general, it’s only when an alternative appears that a “choice” might be seen as more of a “decision”, but that also depends on the quality of the alternative, otherwise it’s not really even a choice. Yet the reason why a bad alternative is/was never a choice is precisely because you know what you want, and you need something really enticing to throw you off your path. And THAT is the key to a decision. It’s your internal path rather than an external road.

Look back at the diagram, and picture the scene where you are only given a choice between eating spaghetti or eating bolognese sauce.

“Excuse me?”

That’s right. Not spaghetti bolognese, but either spaghetti or bolognese sauce.
Do you see the problem now? It’s two bad choices, when what you really want is both or at least “something in between”. A decision represents a “creative middle” because if it has to be created as a purple mix between a blue and red option, then it is. Otherwise it’s just a purple path that doesn’t need to be split into a spectrum of two opposites.
A decision is willful.
It is an unwavering path that might look right or wrong left to others depending on their perspective.
But for those taking it, it is clear. And that make it easy to choose, because there’s not really a choice needed.

Maybe this all made sense, or maybe it made no sense at all.
Maybe I’m right in my terminology, maybe I’m not.
I suppose it’s your choice.

Or rather, decision?

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