As We Move Forward: Pick Your Battles

StudentsThe college I attended changed the degree requirements of my major during my junior year. One of the changes called for every senior with this major to take an examination in this subject area as a requirement for graduating with this major. I reviewed the degree requirements in place when I began my major and determined that I had completed the requirements for the degree that were in place when I began.

When the chairman of the department announced the time and place of the examination and that all seniors expecting to graduate with this major were required to take it, I informed him that because I had completed the requirements in place when I began, I was respectfully declining to take this examination.

As a result of that I found myself in the academic dean’s office. After I explained to him that I had completed the degree requirements that existed when I had begun my major, I told him I was respectfully declining to take this examination.

He looked at me and said, ”David you’re right. You do not have to sit for this exam.” He paused and continued, ”Some day a request for a recommendation for you will come across my desk. Your decision regarding this examination will have a direct bearing on my recommendation. You need to pick your battles.“

I took the examination. I passed. I decided that the risk of some future recommendation having a negative impact on something I could not even envision at the time was just too big a risk for me to take. His challenge to pick my battles has stuck with me. Picking our battles involves a very complex process of decision making.

It is important to ask if the cause behind the battle is right and if I have the right to what I am fighting for. This calls for diligent soul searching and coming to terms with our core values. People were held to be accountable for atrocities they committed as part of the Third Reich during World War II. Personal accountability and the consequences of our actions comprise a large part of picking our battles.

Asking if we have a reasonable expectation of success and if that expectation is worth the risks goes a long way to inform our decision as to which battles to pick. Some people respond out of anger in nearly every situation in their lives. It is as if they believe everyone in the universe starts every day trying to see what they can do to make this person’s life miserable. As when trying to help a trapped or injured animal, every move toward them takes on the same intensity. The response is attack that comes from pain or fear. Texting in all capital letters is an example of this no filters response. Everything seems to set these people off, and their response is always loud and heated. Panic seems their initial response to every situation.

Many of us know someone who responds with that same high volume of hostility and antagonism in nearly every situation. Picking a battle with someone who responds in this way leads to exhaustion and frustration.

As we move forward, we want to pick battles that will accomplish something useful in our lives and in the lives of others. We might take on a battle because it is the right thing to do, but we will do it with an understanding of what is at stake and what the outcome is likely to be.

Picking our battles rises from maturity. Experience helps guide this maturity. Join me as we pick our battles based on the best information we have so we can feel good both about the battles we pick and the ones we avoid.

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