Donald Trump has proudly proclaimed that he usually goes with his gut when making decisions because he is confident that things will work out well for him when he does so. On the surface going with your gut seems natural enough. Nature has equipped us with feelings so that we can navigate our way in the world. Often going with our gut gets us that which is pleasurable and allows us to avoid that which is unpleasant. In fact, going with our guts is our default decision making system. We employ it all the time without even noticing we are doing it.
What flavour of ice cream did you have most recently? What did you watch on TV last night? What book are you currently reading? Chances are the choices you made in these situations involved some degree of “trusting” your gut. In these and the vast majority of minor decisions we make every day going with your gut is an efficient and, generally, sufficient choice making strategy. It is also important to note that in situations where you must react quickly, such as life-threatening emergencies, going with your gut is the only game in town. You simply do not have time to respond in any measured way. If you are about to step on a rattlesnake don’t take time to consider your options. Jump out of the way! Most people would react to a situation of this kind without even thinking about it. And this is a feature of gut reactions that has great appeal. You don’t have to think about what to do. You just let your gut be your guide.
However, there are situations requiring us to make choices that are neither life-threatening emergencies nor as trivial as choosing a flavour of ice cream; buying a house, getting married, choosing a career or moving across the country to name a few. Of course, even these decisions can be made by going with your gut but, because of the stakes involved, you might want to make a more thoughtful choice.
Perhaps you have to decide between multiple options and would like to consider the pros and cons of each option. There are many strategies that people employ when facing big decisions. You might research the available options online, talk to trusted friends, or compare the attributes of each option relative to costs involved. Regardless of the decision making process you use you will need to use specific criteria to evaluate the relative desirability of the available options. For example, when buying a new car you might want to compare price, fuel efficiency, comfort, luxury features, colour, etc. If you really want to get serious you could weight the criteria against one another.
Then there are those decisions that are of such importance that going with your gut would be just too dangerous. For example imagine that you are a leader of a powerful country and you are considering military action on foreign soil. Would you flip a coin? Not likely. Going with your gut in this situation will not be any more reliable than tossing the coin. Perhaps the car buying strategy discussed above might offer a way to proceed. But what criteria should you use to evaluate your options? There are so many factors to consider. How could you be clear about which attributes to take into account? And yet, a decision must be made. Decisions like this one require a special kind of criteria: universal values. You need to identify what is most important, not just in this particular case, but in all cases in general. This is no trivial task. And, it turns out, it is a more thorny problem than you might initially imagine.
What you see as most important, what matters most to you, will depend on your view of the world and how you see yourself in that world. As discussed in The Hopeful Mindset, there are two basic views that we tend to have concerning the nature of our world and the nature of our relationship to it. The fist view, or mindset, is based on the view that we are independent, separate selves living in a world of separate things and events. From this perspective a particular set of values arises around what matters to us in most situations. Because this mindset sees us as vulnerable, separate individuals needing to look out for number one, the values associated with it tend to be about self preservation and personal triumphs. Three of the dominant values of this view are:wealth – accumulation of resourcesstatus – dominance, powerpersonal success – expediency, winningThis perspective, based on the assumption of independent selves, is our default way of seeing our selves and our world. Its values are generally cynical in nature.
An alternative perspective is one that sees us as interdependent beings living in an interdependent world. This view is consistent with what we see when we look at the interactions of living things in ecosystems. From this view a very different set of values arises concerning what is important in most situations. Being predicated on an interdependent understanding, values related to it tend to focus on mutual wellbeing over the long run. Three governing values of this mindset are:sustainability – conservation, long term view, ecomoralityinclusive connection – cooperation, respectpersonal contribution – wellbeing of the larger communityThe perspective of interdependence is not our default perspective. It is one that needs to be intentionally adopted. Based as they are on nature’s interdependence these values encourage actions that are conducive to personal, interpersonal, and planetary wellbeing. They are, therefore, hopeful values.
Coming back to the scenario where you are the leader of a powerful nation contemplating taking military action in a foreign country you can now see how which set of values you subscribe to would make all the difference in terms of the decision you make. A desire for resource accumulation, power, and winning will bias the choice making process one way, while valuing sustainability, cooperation, and the long-term wellbeing of the global community will influence it in another way.
In the absence of a set of values based on the nature of our world and our place in it, namely our interdependent reality, we will continue to make decisions, both minor and major decisions, according to our default cynical values. When this is the case and we say we are going with our guts what we are saying at the same time is that we are allowing our unconscious, automatic values to decide our choices. When we lack a set of positive and hopeful values we will not act in our own long-term best interests nor the interests of the planet. By all means, choose you favourite flavour of ice cream, select a book according to its cover, or have another beer but don’t rely on a poorly educated gut feeling when the lives of others are on the line. Going with your gut in this kind of situation is an abdication of personal responsibility and lacks a committment to the health of our world.
Donald Trump, your blind faith in trusting your gut when making decisions that impact millions of people is not something to be proud of. It’s a dereliction of duty.