My post about my friend who throws away books generated a fair bit of controversy a couple of weeks ago. I was really happy to hear from so many people who love books a lot, just as I do. But I was also a bit surprised by how upset some people were, to the point that one person even said that he couldn’t be friends with someone who threw books away.
I guess we all have our hot topic buttons, but I can’t imagine throwing Rahul under the bus because he has a different perception than me (and one he has thought about, to boot). Most of my friendships can survive more than one difference of opinion, particularly one that doesn’t affect me directly (regular and overt sexist behavior, for example, would be another kettle of fish).
Anyway, I’m talking about this because I’m going to share a profound Rahul Kanakia quotation from Facebook: “The only major decision that life offers is: Should I look for something better, even though it means endangering what I have?”
(I mean, seriously, how could I not be friends with someone who randomly posts status messages like that on Facebook?)
I’ve been trying to think of a major decision that doesn’t involve the choice of perhaps losing or changing what you already have, and I’m drawing a blank. Change involves endangering the status quo. Sometimes when we’re involved with change, we’re pretty sure we’re going to end up better off because of it; other times, we’re simply guessing. We don’t know, and that’s where some of the pain of change comes in: letting go of something to make room for something else that might not be any better (or, even worse, might be not as good).
Also, if looking for something better doesn’t endanger what you already have in any way, then it’s not a very hard decision.
I suppose there is sometimes a follow-up decision, which is this: you’ve already decided on the change, but you have to choose between several options. In this case, instead of endangering what you already have, you’re trying to make the optimal decision for yourself. We see this when high school seniors are deciding what college to attend, in multiple job offer situations, when going house shopping. The more options there are, the more decision paralysis sets in. But you’ve already made the initial decision to look for something different (by getting more education, purchasing a house, searching for a job, etc.).
Should I look for something better and accept the risk? It’s a question worth asking. Often the answer is no. The risk isn’t worth it. The hypothetical better isn’t worth it. But sometimes the answer is yes.
Good fiction asks this question a lot. Sure, sometimes the main character is railroaded by events, but the most interesting fiction gives the protagonist some agency. As readers we enjoy when the stakes are high and the protagonist has more to lose, because then this decision becomes really interesting.
Do I act, even though by acting I risk losing what I care about? Do I try, even though I could fail and never get back to where I am now? Do I change, even though the changes will have unforeseen consequences?
These questions, I think, are a deep part of what it is to be human.