Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dithering and Deciding

Lately I have come to realize that I spend far too much time dithering.  For various things in my work-related life, and sometimes in my personal life as well, I need to make a decision in order to move forward. Which books should I order for my course on the philosopher John Rawls next semester? Which talks at my Ethics and Children's Literature conference should I select for possible inclusion in an edited collection drawn from the conference contributions? What grades should I give my students on their first paper?

These are all worthy of some serious consideration. The books I select will determine the shape of the course. The talks I select will determine the shape of the volume. My students care intensely about their grades and have worked hard to earn them. So I'm not opposed to spending careful time weighing various options about each of these choices. But what happens too often in my life is that I spend careful time weighing options; I consult with other people whose judgment I respect about those options; I give the decision a good night's sleep. And then what do I do?  I dither.  I just can't bear the thought of actually deciding one way or another.  So I sit and stress and worry and fret and dither.

My new vow is to stop doing this. I don't think I've ever changed my mind about a tentative decision from further dithering. And I certainly don't remember a single time I ever changed it for the better.

I spent a full morning last week pondering the choices for my Rawls course and came up with a good list of what to order. I reviewed all my notes from the conference and compared thoughts with another scholar, looking both at the quality of the papers and the overall vision for the volume; I now have a plan for the book. I read my student papers, after having already read multiple drafts of some of them, and put a pencil grade on each one.

So what will be gained at this point by asking myself: Have I ordered too many books for my class or too few?  What if one of the papers for the conference book doesn't turn out to be as good, in its final version, as I am hoping it will be? Are my grades too high or too low?

Enough dithering! Order those books! Send out emails about the conference collection! Put those grades on the papers in ink! I've actually already made a reasoned and reasonable decision in each case, so I don't even need to tell myself to go ahead and decide. All I need to do is to stop dithering and act on my decision. Might it be the wrong decision? Yes. But I can't see how any more dithering will prevent that standing possibility from eventuating.

From this moment onward, I shall dither no more!

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