Click on a Theme below to go to a summary of the four posts about that Theme.

Decisions, Additional Subthemes

Subthemes: Rarely Final, Inner Monologue, Humanity's Advantage

Four posts have explored the theme of Decisions: a song about a teenager’s wandering eyes for girls, a poem about the consequences of taking one path in the woods and not another, a movie scene of a mother being forced to decide which child to give up, and an Impressionist rendering of two card players. The subthemes identified in those works of art cover 16 aspects of the Decision theme, but a handful of other subthemes deserve mention.

Rarely Final: None of the four pieces of art disclose what happened next. We presume the traveler never made it back to the other road; we presume the little girl perishes immediately; we presume the teenager eventually gets married; and we presume the two men keep dealing hands when they are not otherwise going about their lives. But we don’t know for sure anything about the denouements. Particularly, we have no way of figuring out from what we see whether any of the decisions reached irreversible finality.

We agonize over major decisions as we sense that they will make a huge difference in our lives, perhaps irrevocably setting us one course instead of another. But, in life, we can often change course after we buy the house, move to a new city, break off the engagement. True, if we break the law, we face a powerful government that can impose the verdict, but felons do return to society, appeals succeed, parole may be granted. Truer still, murder, suicide and abortions have finality. Still, for the most part, time heals all wounds and reopens all decisions.

Inner Monologue: Neither the painting nor the song grant us access to the protagonist’s mind. We have no clues regarding how they are framing the decisions they must make or their method of resolving them. With the movie scene, Streep’s exquisite acting conveys some of what she wrestles with and even how she impulsively blurted out the fateful decision. The poem most explicitly opens the reader to how the traveler decided which path to follow – but it was so close a call that a minor perception of fresher grass was given perhaps undue importance.

For most of us, it is a rare circumstance where we articulate any rationale for a decision; most of them are too minor to justify that effort. On the other hand, with profound consequences at stake, many people do try to capture the balancing act in their mind, wrestle with the countervailing pressures, project as best they can into the future, and draw on lessons from their past. They talk with friends, speak with therapists or clergy, or write in journals.

Humanity’s Advantage: Our ability to make difficult decisions, no matter how flawed, distinguishes us from all other creatures. Our brains have evolved so that we can with varying proficiency gather facts, weigh options, consider alternative outcomes and come to a decision. Each of the four artworks assumes this uniquely human advantage. Not that the capability comes without cost; painful decisions can cause ulcers or other psycho-somatic disorders, and painful decisions can lead to remorse and regret for a lifetime. Still, most people believe that they can make decisions in their lives and that such opportunities should be cherished.

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