I recently realized that there are two methods of making decisions in our lives that I see as being on opposite sides of a spectrum.

On one side is Knowledge. This requires researching out the decision at hand and learning all that is possible about the good and bad aspects of the decision. You can see this in action when someone compares two items in the store that are the same, but packaged in different-sized containers. Is it better to buy the 10 oz. package at $2, or the 48 oz. package at $8.50? Well, define “better.” If you are looking for best value, then buy the larger package since it costs less per ounce. But value may not be the only thing at issue. What about the size of the package or the amount of money in your pocket? Are there any other factors that will influence this choice? Most likely, there are.

The better we understand the issues at hand, the better we may make an informed decision when faced with a choice. But in our society, we are confronted with a growing level of complexity that makes fully understanding the issues and items around us an increasingly more difficult task to perform. Do you prefer that a nuclear or coal-burning power plant be set up in your state? Do you understand the differences, benefits, and drawbacks of each? Fully? I know I don’t. And this brings up another drawback of using knowledge for decision-making: the length of time required to make an informed choice. We are so often caught up in a multitude of activities that we may not have the time or the inclination to learn what we need for a informed decision.

On the other side of the spectrum is Emotion. There is no logic in picking a green dishwashing liquid over blue, other than preferring one color over another. Making decisions based purely on emotion is much faster than using knowledge. Does it really matter which shirt you wear today? If not, then just wear the one you like the best and get on with your day.

Yet making decisions based solely on emotion can be dangerous, too. Because we make them based on our gut-feelings, we may be easily led by someone whose products are specifically designed to play on our emotions. You can see this in action in government by the names placed on bills and programs. After all, who could vote against the Clean Air and Water Act based solely on its snappy name? Don’t we all want a clean environment? But if we base our judgment on the name alone, then we have been manipulated into accepting all the fine print in there that we didn’t bother to read.

So we have two ways of making decisions, but we don’t use exclusively one or the other. Instead, we will often use a mixture of the two. That is why I said these two are on the opposite sides of a spectrum with a blending of them lying between the two extremes. People are free to decide how to choose, but I prefer to choose things based more on knowledge than emotion. And the more important the decision, the more I try to base that decision on the best information I can find.

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