Defaults… Dancing in the Dark

So… how come we are not opening the clinic as planned?

We are learning a process of decision making that your clients are also facing: Dancing in the Dark.

As things stand today, the correct answer to any specific question regarding information about the Corona situation in Israel today is: We don’t know.

This not knowing has a great many aspects ranging from real unknowns about the virus and its behavior to secondary unknowns about how information is collected, digested and communicated by those responsible. But the sum of primary and secondary unknowns is still a general subjective unknown.

Now, it is only natural to try to make the unknown known, especially where there are major social, emotional and financial consequences. This inner pressure sometimes brings us to claim that there is a way to know the unknown. In our culture today nearly every “known” has been promoted publicly and often vociferously by individuals with a high level of specialty knowledge or political responsibility. This polarization sheds much heat but no light. If you want to “know” – you just have to “choose the right posek” (LeHavdil). And if you like to apply “logic” to reach a conclusion, the field is wide open. To paraphrase Groucho Marx: “These are my arguments, and if you don’t like them, I have lots of other ones.” But in truth one can apply logic to facts alone, and the facts are unknown.

Let me share with you how we reached the decision not to open the clinic just yet, as an example. Will there be another “wave” of Corona? Will it be dangerous? Will easing up restrictions have an impact? We don’t know.

What we do know is that there are different “feelings” among the people for whom we are responsible – staff and clients. We asked ourselves, “What is the feeling among people connected to the clinic at this moment? Does reopening create more relief or more tension?” But before we asked we established what is known in decision making as a default. The default determines what we do if the answer is “I don’t know.” The default requires one crucial characteristic: transparency. It is determined in the light, not in the dark. We decided that if there is a strong feeling that opening would be best, we would continue as planned. Obviously, if there was a strong feeling against opening as planned, we would choose that path. But we also decided that the default would be: not to open. So, we asked the senior staff if there were any strong feelings in favor of reopening as planned, and there were not. Decision made. It will be the same process next week.

You will be discussing the “we don’t know” dilemma with some of your clients over the next few weeks. Some may be easily pulled to try to get the “facts,” or to argue about the facts. It may be most helpful to assist clients to assume responsibility for choosing the default that creates the greatest feeling of security among family members. This would involve an intersubjective process – communicating about the subjective feelings of family members. After all, no one can tell you what is the “objective” risk of any given behavior. That remains in the dark. And for families with a lower level of differentiation and a greater need for regulation, the default will be what maintains the best regulation. “What keeps us calm” is a good default.

Everyone faces this choice – to dance in the dark or to be paralyzed or polarized by it. Choose well and help your clients do so as well.