Taking Time to Think It Through
Dig deep. Your decisions may have wide-ranging effects.
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” ― Lao Tzu
The present is imperfect. We never know what will happen next.
When we look back at history or perhaps a favorite story, we know how things turn out. We know the beginning, middle, and end.
But to those involved in the action of the moment, at that moment, the future is anything but certain.
In the winter of 1776, George Washington didn’t know he’d defeat the British. In fact, it was very much in doubt.
In the early 1930s, Germany had no idea they were backing a dictator and genocidal maniac as their leader.
They had to make decisions based on the information available to them at the time, and sometimes with haste.
In some cases, decisions like these are made without as much information as we have in hindsight; in other cases, outside forces like the weather or the reaction of rival forces may change the course of history.
Make the decision to explore yourself and the world a little more deeply with Timeless & Timely. Join our community of thinkers today.
“When one tries to rise above Nature one is liable to fall below it.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, 1923
Pestilence, Meet Starvation
In one historic case, a decision that made a great deal of sense in the short term resulted in catastrophic unforeseen consequences: the greatest mass starvation in history that resulted in the deaths of 45 million people.
The year was 1958, and nine years after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took power, leader Mao Zedong announced the Great Leap Forward — a social and economic campaign to move the country from an agrarian economy to an industrial one.
The CCP mandated certain levels of food production, and when farmers were unable to meet the high-yield demands, the party instituted the Four Pests Campaign, in which mosquitoes, flies, sparrows, and rats were the targets of a mass eradication for the sake of cleanliness and hygiene.
Mao’s slogan, ren ding sheng tian, meaning “man must conquer nature,” became the rallying cry for the campaign, even though it stood in opposition to the Daoist philosophy that humans should find a harmonious balance with nature.
As with almost every time mankind tries to rise above nature, it would be nature that had the last laugh.
Rats, mosquitoes, and flies were targeted mainly because they carried diseases; sparrows because they consumed large quantities of grain that affected food shortages. The public was encouraged to make loud noises to keep sparrows from resting and to destroy their nests.
The eradication plan worked. To an extent.
Because Zedong’s administration didn’t consider the other ecological impacts of sparrows, they failed to realize that there would be some related effects. While sparrows do eat some grain, they also play a critical role in controlling the insects that cause crop disasters.
The next year, without sparrows to control their population, locusts swarmed the country and destroyed the crops, causing a famine that, according to the CCP, killed 15 million people (other experts estimate the number was as high as 45 million).
Ultimately, China had to import sparrows from the Soviet Union.
The effects of short-term decisions can reverberate long after we’ve made those decisions. Elon Musk eliminated entire teams at Twitter, including the communications team and the trust and safety team. How’d that work out?
Know This Before You Decide
When faced with choices, we never can tell what the future may hold. Afterward, it’s tempting to tell our own story and make it sound as if we knew what we were doing. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is a great example of that. That was the subject of a previous newsletter.
Interestingly,just wrote about that very poem:
“But success isn’t about winning championships or making money, it’s about being happy with who you are. And who you are isn’t based on the outcome of choices—good or bad—but the reasons you made those choices.”
Once again, we find that knowing who you are — the principles that you stand for — informs everything that you do.
Before gathering all of the facts about a decision you have to make, take inventory of yourself, putting Socrates’ to use: know thyself.
Then you’ll know what to do.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.