Monday, February 03, 2020

Irrevocable Decisions

Author and Yale University professor of philosophy and cognitive science L.A. Paul proposes a puzzle in which you are to imagine that you are approached at a party by a charismatic stranger with whom you exchange a few minutes of delightful banter. He says to you, "I'm a vampire and I think you would make a great vampire." He goes on to offer to make you into a vampire, telling you how wonderful it is, how you will be immortal, how you'll have super strength and speed, the ability to fly, and, like him, you'll be irresistibly charming. You have to admit, that all sounds pretty good, but you have some concerns. "What about the blood drinking? I don't like the sound of that. And I don't know if I can live without ever seeing the sun again. Those seem like a pretty big downsides." The vampire nods, "I get it, but let me assure you, once you're a vampire, those things won't matter."

Dream the Combine and Clayton Binkley

What do you decide? Becoming a vampire is an irrevocable decision. You can't really know if you'll be able to abide the negatives so you have no choice but to take the vampire's word for it. Becoming a vampire means you will become a whole new individual. Not only will you have super powers, but you be someone for whom drinking blood is not repulsive and never seeing another sunrise is no big deal.

Paul's point is that transformative experiences require something irrevocable to happen. Of course, we don't always get to choose our transformations, such as the type that happen when, say, someone loses a leg, but others we do get to choose, but only if we have the courage to make irrevocable decisions. Deciding to become a parent is in many ways quite similar to the decision to become a vampire. There's no going back and the moment that baby is born everything changes.

I recently sat down with a friend who is considering a major life change. He's decided to leave his current job and is seriously considering going into a whole new profession. He's in the process of weighing options, assessing the pros and cons, considering the impacts on his loved ones. That he's going to make a change is clear, the only question is whether or not it will be a transformative one. Another friend in a similar situation has defined her fulcrum as being between "safety" and "following my heart." Both of these people are looking at being "vampires" from the other side of their irrevocable decisions: they see the cool stuff, but aren't sure if they'll be able to live with the blood drinking. They've both asked for my advice and I've urged them to choose transformation.

I am not the person I was 50 years ago. Every atom in my body has changed, numerous times, between then and now. I have encountered hundreds of moments that irrevocably changed who I am. Transformation is a fundamental aspect of how the universe works: if you don't choose your transformations, they choose you, and there is no way to know what it means until you are on the other side. We live in an ever-emerging now, so in that sense, every moment is a transformation. We are always in the process of emerging, but I've come to see that we don't always have to live at the effect of transformation. We can be the cause as well, at least sometimes, but it requires doing something frightening. It requires stepping into the unknown. It requires making an irrevocable decision and then summoning the courage or gumption or whatever to embrace it like a parent embracing their newborn baby.

As for regrets, we all have them, but the worst, I think, are those we harbor about things we didn't do. We're all going to be transformed. The question is: do we choose our transformation or does it choose us?

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