The Question That Matters


Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  In his typically clumsy, inarticulate way, this Baseball Hall-of-Famer struck on an important experiential truth.  Life is defined by a series of choices made, sometimes taking what Dr. M. Scott Peck once called “the rod less traveled.”   That is also the conclusion of L. A. Paul, Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in her new book entitled The Transformative Experience.  She explains that the forks in life’s road that a person takes change that person’s emotional and psychological identity forever.   In other words, we are not the consequences of our genetic code or natural law but of our decisions.

And how we decide is a function of assessing whether or not we want to welcome the experience that would result from our choices.  To use David Brooks (New York Times, August 30, 2015) articulation, the current “You” is trying to make a decision without having the chance to know what it will feel like to be the future “You.”  Decision-making, then, is essentially asking the question: “Do I have the profound desire to discover what it would like to be this new me, to experience a new mode of living?”

Brooks calls Paul’s architectonic of decision-making “ingenious, but incomplete.”  Brooks argues that human being are not entirely rational beings, an argument that has historically been made against philosophers Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham among others who have built their ethical systems on rationality.  Brooks writes that human beings are historical creatures (meaning influence by evolution), social creatures (meaning influenced by culture), mystical creatures (influenced by mysterious destiny), and moral creatures. 

Combining all these elements together is a kind of intellectual syncretism that defies comprehension.  Brooks is on sturdier ground, however, with his last claim.  Noting that our desires change all the time, the question is never “How will my choice affect my future self?” but “Which path will make me a better person?”  In the end, it is this question alone that matters.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter