By Dave B.
This post started as request from someone that I write about how people can be more pragmatic. It sounded like a good idea, but I try to slow myself down and think things through before committing to a course of action (because that is the exact opposite of what my instincts tell me to do). So, my first action was to find a definition for the word “pragmatic”. Oxford defines it as, “Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations”. I like that definition, so let’s go with it.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that pragmatism is often boring and difficult. Adopting it as a way of life almost inevitably leads to ostracization and being misunderstood by a majority that is often primarily guided by their feelings. Overall, I can’t say that it’s a lifestyle choice that I recommend for most people. Of course it would be nice if the people that we interact with were more pragmatic when it suits us. And clearly if people in positions of power and influence in society dealt with public policy more sensibly and realistically, with less ideological influence, we might actually have a more effective, less contentious political culture.
The problem is that, at times, everyone views their emotions and perspectives as objective truth instead of as subjective conjecture. Me, you, everyone does this at one point or another. I think there are some very understandable reasons for this. We often want what we want regardless of any other consideration or consequence. We also tend to fear the uncertainty that comes from making decisions based on assessment instead of motivation. The former requires us to accept that there are factors that we don’t know or understand, while the latter simply requires us to make a decision as to what outcome we think we desire. The effort that it takes to incorporate this change of thought process into daily life is not trivial.
I’m not saying that I would mind if we were all a bit more thoughtful in our decision-making processes and in our interactions with each other, but I don’t think it’s necessary for people to always make pragmatic decisions that largely ignore theory and feelings. I just think that we need to at least consider how our decisions may impact ourselves and those around us. Wishful thinking, I know, but as George Carlin said, “inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist”. I guess some of my idealism is still intact.