Monday, May 25, 2009

What If I Didn't Write This Blog Post?

A few days ago, my niece posted a comment on Facebook about why you should never ask 'What if?'. Since then, it's been much on my mind.

Certainly popular culture, probably from time immemorial, has embraced this philosophy; presumably to keep us from agonizing and kicking ourselves over decisions we didn't make, or wrong decisions we did make.

Yet, there's another way to look at this. For instance, what if (pun sort of intended...) Gandhi hadn't said 'What if I leave behind a cozy middle-class life to fight peacefully for the freedom of my people?', or if John Lennon hadn't asked: 'What if I give up art school and be a musician?'. Imagine what the world might be like if Martin Cooper, former general manager of Motorola's Communications Systems Division hadn't asked himself: 'What if people could communicate with each other without needing cables and wires?'. There are literally endless examples of the positive power of 'What if?'

Of course, asking that same question also has limitless negative outcomes, as well. Consider those made by John Wilkes Booth, Adolf Hitler or the 9/11 terrorists?

Frankly, thinking about it for too long--like lying awake thinking about where the universe ends and what it looks like (which I often did as a child)--can as good as drive you insane. I think the reasonable approach is to make any decision using the best information you have at the time, then not dwelling on the outcome or 'what might have been'. That only leads to grave self doubt, something with which I'm very familiar and wish very much that I wasn't.

In many ways, "What if?" is the very soul of creativity.

Some theorists believe that for every possible decision, timelines split off infinitely to account for every possible situation. (For instance, the Chaos Theory that postulates that a single flutter--or lack of same--of a butterfly's wing can bring cataclysmic consequences.) That's pretty amazing to imagine and makes even the simple blink of an eye a decision of infinite possibilities. At least asking "What if?" can give us some control, if only a little, over tiny little snippets of our individual destinies. Obviously, most decisions we make are mundane and happen, it seems, automatically.

Perhaps, rather than eschewing "What if?", which can accomplish (I believe) far more good outcomes than bad, we should avoid the phrase "If only." Once any decision is made, it's almost always impossible to undo it. The trick is to deal positively with what ultimately comes to pass; hopefully making the next time you say or think (whether literally or figuratively) "What if?" the impetus for something good--maybe even magical--will result.

So..."what if I write this blog entry?" Certainly nothing earth shattering or life altering--at least as far as I can tell. But then...who knows?

But at least it'll be one less reason to sigh and say: "If only..."

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