“Give me liberty, or give me death!” ~ Patrick Henry
Clarity is greatly liberating, in the sense that decisiveness is enhanced by it. Since liberty is not the right to do as we like, but the freedom to do as we ought, then being clear how our convictions inform our actions opens up many degrees of freedom to us. One of the greatest falsehoods perpetrated today is that of having the “luxury of choice”, for if we were indeed to have that luxury, we would quite likely be spoilt by it, and too often freeze into making no choice at all! Too many choices is not palatable. It serves us far better to have great clarity knowing what we ought to be doing, and then indulging ourselves in the resulting substantial spread before us. Having our choices limited to a few possibles works very well for most of us. For Patrick Henry, addressing the Second Virginia Convention in the yet-to-be-forged United States of America in 1775, it worked very well, as he only had two. The ability to exercise freedom of choice only makes sense when we are very clear about what is of absolute importance to us, what is not important to us, and what is impossible. Do not be fooled by the popular notion that “Nothing is impossible.” When challenged with that phrase, an irate Marine once retorted “Yeah? Ever tried pushing toothpaste back into the tube?” That’s a little simplistic, of course, and there will be dozens of folk eager to show you how you can put toothpaste back into a tube, but you get the point. Think about the preposterous idea of life arising from non-living chemicals, and you start to appreciate that there is such a thing as impossible.
Nobody likes to be daft, and one of the best ways to avoid being daft is being clear. Besides clarity being based upon strong convictions, clear choices and understanding what is indeed impossible, we also need to be clear about precision and accuracy. Precision is very alluring. If I asked you to guess which of the following two statements is correct, which one would you choose?
- Last year’s profit was about $300,000
- Last year’s profit was $1,256,745.65
Would you have chosen the second statement? Why, because it had no zeroes and showed two decimal places denoting sixty five cents? How about these?
- The coal in those seams is 45.67 million years old
- The coal in those seams cannot be older than 10,000 years
Which would you have selected? The first statement, because of the two decimal places, or the other seemingly more fuzzy one? What if you knew that all the coal in the samples contained significant amounts of Carbon-14, whose half-life is a mere 5,730 years, meaning that in less than a million years, there would be no more Carbon-14 left to be measured? What if you knew, for the first example on profits, that the figure of $300,000 was the more accurate because that was after subtracting all the accounts receivable and accounts payable?
We don’t always need great precision but we always need great accuracy. If you wanted to take a picture of an Emperor Penguin nesting its chick in the Antarctic winter and all you had was a satellite with a camera, then that camera would need to be an extremely good one. If all you needed was a general idea of where the nesting ground was, then a larger scale image would do very nicely. What would not be serving you at all would be if you punched in the wrong coordinates and your satellite camera took pictures of something that looked like nesting Emperor Penguins in what looked like a nesting site – in the Arctic. Are there penguins in the Arctic? Maybe in the Novaya Zemlya Zoo. You get the point.