Making Choices - A Thought Experiment

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

People make choices countless times a day. Well, not exactly countless. What if I told you that the average human makes around 35,000 semi-conscious decisions each day? Not bad for not being a machined computer. These decisions, for the most part, are simple. Notice I said, semi-conscious. The majority of these choices are very passive and are based on experiences that have embedded visualized outcomes within the subconscious mind. It’s like a computer’s Random Access Memory (RAM). Frequent things that your mind uses all the time are stored in a way that makes them easily accessible. This makes making the decision easy.

In our day to day lives, while just moving through our day, how many times would you say you stop and think about the outcome of a choice you’re about to make? Perhaps the big decisions--sure, you think about them. But those everyday choices, the ones that don’t seem so big--the ones that add up and have outcomes that seem to be just a part of daily living. Are we giving those decisions the thought and foresight we would when making other decisions?

When we think about the big decisions, we often think about how those outcomes will impact our lives first, and if we’re extra mindful, we take the extra step of thinking about how those choices impact our friends and family. It’s kind of like Chess. In Chess, you’re always thinking about the next move. The best players think about the next several moves and the outcomes. I love Chess, but I’m terrible at it.

What makes choices easy? When we think about whatever choice we’re going to make, we immediately process the previous occasions we made similar choices. Our brains determine the probability that things will go the way they did previously. This gives us comfort in our decision. “This is just like last time. I’ll make the same decision, and the outcome will be the same.” A warm fuzzy blanket. Emotional complacency is born.

Rather than think about each choice we make and deal with the emotional and sometimes headache-inducing internal debate, we develop an easy road--scratch that--a lazy road. The lazy road allows us to develop an unwillingness to rationalize scenarios and outcomes and instead, always rely on similar situations we’ve experienced ourselves, or within our peer circles.

Not every choice needs this deep dive. But some of them, we may benefit from taking the time to calculate the outcomes. “I should water my plant. Well, maybe not. I didn’t water it yesterday, and it’s fine.” We know where this leads. Get up and water the plant. “Extra tablespoon of sugar in my coffee today. Well, I’m supposed to watch the sugar. Nope. Just one tablespoon today.” These are small decisions. But they have a measurable impact when we think about them and their long term or cumulative effect.

What does Freemasonry say about making choices? Well, it gives us a few virtues that give us some good insight. Fortitude allows us to stick to our guns once we’ve made a choice. In the classical sense, justice will enable us to weigh in on an outcome’s equity—selfishness versus selflessness. Temperance allows us to remain moderate in our decisions. But Prudence--prudence is what we’re talking about here. Prudence is deliberation. It means to take into account all possible perceived outcomes of a situation and make your choice based on the aim of the person making the decision. Do you want to affect the most people? The least people? The questions are innumerable.

My charge to you is to attempt to bring prudence back into your life by taking small pauses when you recognize that you’re about to make a decision. Think about the outcomes. Maybe you do the thing you always do. Maybe, you change your mind. Remember, not every single thing needs a panic-inducing brain cloud. Just be mindful and try this out when you can.


RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry," The Master's Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self: Annotated Edition, and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.


  1. Excellent article. Very applicable to our lives, and it begs a sequel where you investigate upon what criteria our prudence should be based. What should our "aim" be in making our decisions?

    Keep on writing, I look forward to reading!

  2. It indeed begs a sequel: in exposition as to where these virtues are derived from. These core virtues were being extolled, elaborated and defined long before the speculative Masonic fraternity existed.


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