Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Bad Decisions - 27 March, 2016
I recently saw a thing making its way around the Interwebby. It showed a picture of a tunnel that had been painted onto a wall, a la Wile E. Coyote
of Warner Brothers cartoon fame. In fact, painted next to the tunnel was a painting of the Road Runner. Also in the picture was a red Fiat, facing
away from the camera. In a second photograph, there was a red Fiat with its front headlight and fender bashed in. Apparently, many people had
drawn the conclusion that the driver of the red Fiat had turned into the painted tunnel and damaged his car. A number of people had commented
on the intellectual prowess of the driver of the "red Fiat."
There was, actually, no relationship between the two photographs, except that each contained a car, made by Fiat, and painted red. The two Fiats
were different models and a slightly different red color. The background of the photograph of the damaged car did not match that of the tunnel
photograph. In other words, the people who drew the "obvious" conclusion that the two photographs were related in subject, time and space were
wrong. However, that was not their "bad decision." Their bad decision was to publicly draw attention to the fact that they were doing what they
were mocking someone else for supposedly doing - being so convinced of their position that they ignored facts available to them that would have
changed their position.
I have met a lot of cruisers over the past few years and I have found that this trait does not apparently last long in the cruising world. It doesn't
take long for this tendency to either disappear or drive you out of cruising. Life on a boat is too expensive, both monetarily and non-monetarily, to
ignore the real world in favor of your prejudices.
For example, a lot of boaters like to believe that operating a boat is a lot like operating a car. This completely ignores the rather obvious
differences between the two. Boaters who believe this, but only operate their boats in calm waters five or six times a year, can get away with it,
because the number of times they will get in trouble is decidedly low. But operate your boat full-time, in all sorts of weather and wind conditions,
and you quickly figure out that there is a world of difference between what you learned driving a car and what you need to know to operate a boat.
Some people get frustrated and sell the boat, going back to the land where the road tends to stay in one place and the wind doesn't blow you
sideways a lot. Others get the message and figure out how to make the new reality work for them.
A lot of us believe we know what people are like. Maybe at some really bottom level, that is true, but it doesn't take too much traveling on the
"local" economy to determine that there is really a huge difference in how others interact with the world. Taking a bus in Vero Beach will expose
you to a totally different world than, say, the marinas in Rock Hall. I suppose it would be possible for a cruiser to spend all of their time in a certain
type of marina up and down the East Coast and, by doing so, never meet anyone different from that environment. However, I have never met a
cruiser who had done so.
Of course, that might be because I rarely spend time in random marinas. I doubt it, though. I suspect that I have been in every "type" of marina
there is - from trailer park to resort community.
I am not saying, by the way, that we never make bad decisions. We have made some terrible decisions. But they did not tend to be caused by a
refusal to evaluate information. In some cases, the decision was good at the time, but subsequent events made the decision bad.
When we first started cruising, for example, we decided that we would no longer need a car. We were planning on moving so frequently that we
would not be able to keep up with it and we planned to be "out of the country" at least part of the year. Based on these facts - which were facts at
the time - we decided to give our car, which we felt had very little resale value, to the teen-aged daughter of a friend, who had very little chance of
getting one of her own. This was a girl that Suzanne had nurtured and mentored since she was about six. It was not a flighty decision. We talked
about it for weeks before committing.
Subsequently, after we had been cruising for eight months, we realized that we would need to make more money each year to continue our plans.
In order to do this, I decided to spend the summers in Rock Hall, teaching. Knowing that there was no reliable public transportation in Rock Hall, we
decided that we would need to purchase a reliable but inexpensive vehicle to get around. Had we KNOWN that this was the outcome, we would
have done much better to hold on to our old car. But this was not in the plans at the time.
Similarly, when we first moved aboard the boat, more than a decade ago, we expected to go cruising within ten years. But, since we could not
know at the time whether we would really do so, we didn't immediately sell all of our furniture. Instead, we put most of it into a storage shed. Then,
every year or so for the next five years, we got rid of some of the stuff in that shed, downsizing each time, until we no longer had a shed. Ten
years into this, we moved into a house for a year while we did one last big overhaul to the boat. By that time, we had no land-based furniture left.
So, we bought some cheap pieces that we could use for a year, and we sold it all at the end of the time for almost what we paid for it. We could
have kept our furnishings, but it would have cost us more in the long term.
It's hard, sometimes, to knows what "facts" are important and which can safely be ignored. One of the best rules I have heard of for evaluating
facts and ideas is "what is the cost of ignoring this information?" The cost of ignoring the information that the two Fiats are different cars is low.
The cost of telling the whole world that you didn't pay attention to it is higher. The cost of giving away our car and then having to buy a new one
was huge, compared to what it would have cost us to garage the car for a year before we were certain that we would not need it.
It's easy to say that the "right" answer is always to wait on something, but there is a cost to waiting. Even if you aren't spending money, if doing
something is the right idea, then not doing is wrong - and that is a cost. If you are using the time to amass information to confirm your choice, that
can be a cost. I suppose that, for me, the best idea is to make a decision and then learn from the results. That is easier to do, by the way, when
you make a bad decision. We tend to learn more from the bad decisions than we do from the good. If we had learned from the good decision to
hold onto our stuff for a while before getting rid of it, we probably would not have gotten rid of the car so easily.
One last thought, given to me by one of the "ancient mariners" that taught me when I was first starting out, seems appropriate here. Good
decision-making comes from experience. Experience comes from bad decision-making.