Faders and Light Switches

Faders and Light Switches
Photo by Jaye Haych / Unsplash

Or, All Things In Moderation...Including Moderation

I struggle with either-or thinking. Actually, I don't struggle with it — I'm great at it. I can too easily find myself making all-or-nothing decisions.

  • Either I'll run a half-marathon this year; or I won't exercise at all.
  • Either I'll translate the whole Bible; or I won't open my Bible (for any reason other than work obligations) for weeks.
  • Either I'll listen to nothing but Apple fandom tech podcasts; or I'll listen to nothing but science fiction and fantasy novels.
  • Either I'll pastor a fairly traditional looking church (traditional, meaning, large Sunday services, a central budget, paid staff); or I'll go sell laptops at the Apple Store and host an informal Bible study.

My mind has been recently ruminating over the metaphor of faders and light switches. I tend to make my decisions like I use a light switch. It's off or it's on. There's no in-between state. It's binary. Zero or One Hundred.

But it would suck if the world were actually designed like this. Imagine an oven, stove, or thermostat with no temperature control. A car that had no gas pedal—it was parked or maximally accelerating. Windows that were either fully open or fully shut. You had to live either fully nude or bundled up for an arctic adventure.

I create at least part of my anxiety and angst by looking at my decisions like this. It can make every decision seem fraught, huge, life-altering, earth-shattering. When, in reality, I don't need to commit to a marathon right now—I can commit to 20 minutes of running this morning. I don't need to commit to radically altering the way everything in my life functions—I can make small changes to increase ease. I don't need to tear down the very notion of institutional church and all of its challenges—maybe I just need a nap.

I think life may be made up of a bunch faders (or dimmers) not just off-on buttons. Decision making isn't just "DO ALL OF THIS" or "DO NONE OF THIS" but rather some mixing and matching. Which, intuitively, I know. Life can be no other way. And yet, when faced with a decision, it's like that intuition is gone and I'm tricked into thinking it's ALL or NONE.

Yes, yes, there are moments when you do need to "go big or go home." And yes, there is the danger of the half-dose. But not every decision is like that. I suspect most of them aren't. And I also suspect that there's no real way to know the difference, except in issues of intentionally causing harm or violating consent (the answer to spanking is not "hit your child less often," but "don't hit them at all").

But much more often, we can't pretend to know the cascading effects of our decisions. Maybe running a marathon could be good for me. Maybe it could blow out my knee. Maybe eliminating all social media from my life would make me more anxious. Or maybe it would make me feel isolated and less informed.

That ambiguity then is not a reason to freeze up and make no decisions ever. Rather it offers a type of freedom in decision-making, understanding that so many decisions have effects that you can't fully predict, and the best you can do is take the information you have, intend well-being for yourself and for those your decision affects, and then pull up or down and that fader.

Anthony Parrott

Anthony Parrott

Washington, DC