Life’s important decisions

Life’s important decisions

Many of life’s important decisions are made for you, some without your knowledge, some without your agreement. You don’t choose your parents, your basic intellectual prowess or your intrinsic health. Whether you have a set of wisdom teeth is not within your ability to decide, nor is your height. You may wish you had delightful blue eyes. Alas, not your choice. Tendency to corns on your feet? Bad luck, the pain will be exacerbated by the fact that you are also a figure of fun.

In all there are four bundles of life gifts you can be given. The first is there from birth, fortunate or unfortunate. Give thanks for the good ones. Consider the bad ones as part of life’s trials. Two bundles of gifts you do have some control over. The gifts you receive only in moderation – like the majority of us – are there for you to develop. They will be the bulk of your assets. Your intellect may be only helf-way decent, you may not be very numerate, your musical ear may be somewhat lacking. Develop these moderate endowments for a long and happy life.

If you have only a semi-good intellect you can improve it by making it work diligently. You must do this all the time, though. Intermittent forays into expanding your mind won’t do much for it. Indeed, you can argue that perseverance is one of the greatest of all the gifts that you can have, though how much you are ‘given’ it is unclear. Baby insistence is a good predictor but no guarantee that it will follow through in later life. John Donne said it all: “Whether doing, suffering or forbearing, you may do miracles by persevering.” I was fortunate to be given a copy of that quote when I was having a bad time during my childhood.

‘Bad’ was an understatement though I didn’t see that until later. It wasn’t anyone’s fault exactly. Mother’s death, wartime, unsatisfactory stepmother, some major childhood illnesses – these sort of things happen to millions of people who survive them, I survived them, too. Damage was done and I had very little advice on how to deal with it. John Donne and perseverance actually saw me through with modest though adequate success. I kept the little crib of Donne in my wallet, remembered it daily and still do. Some gifts you have to spot. Some you are simply lucky with.

Luck is hard to describe as a gift, but it surely is such a thing. Many will tell you that you have to be alert to make your luck work and that is true, too. But some people are lucky all the time, others for only some of their lives. And many are not lucky at all. Luck is thought of as random. There is certainly an element of that about it. But creativity has a significant bearing on whether the luck that most people will have in their lives actually bears fruit. Creativity – ‘the ability to perceive relationships’ – determines how we put together the opportunities that come our way and the skills we innately have.

What are the things we can be taught about life’s gifts and how to nurture them?

Communications are the foundation of relationships which in turn are the basis of material and social success in life. We can certainly be taught the elements of communications. We can also be taught the way to examine if we are slavishly following those rules or using them correctly as guidelines to be enhanced by our own ideas and formats. Of all the subjects on how to live our lives, communications is the one that most needs any prescription broken. A serious threat of digitisation is that everything will become a formula and nothing will be novel.

A world full of formulae would be disastrously dull. Our minds would atrophy and invention would be left to robots who would soon see where their interests lay. They are already doing so but we still have control of them. Will we always? We could. We need to remember that “making the brains of the few become the assets of all” is not a set of checklists but an enabling of minds and a firing up of creativity.

Perhaps the most important decision we make in life is about who we marry or live with. Not always seen as a life commitment today, the sands of time determine its longevity, at least to some extent. It will probably always be seen as a decent idea that it should last to the end. Important therefore to choose someone who is basically nice and kind. You do not want to wake every morning to a greeting only slightly short of a death sentence.

Other people make your opportunities most of the time. Cultivate them and always have a good mentor to help you. She or he won’t dictate your life but if they are being really useful they will nudge you when you need it.

And, believe me, we all need a nudge more often than we think.

For those who want to see Martin Wolf’s introductory remarks at our Drink & Think on 18Sep20 you can connect here. The discussion itself was under The Chatham House Rule and was not, therefore, recorded.