‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ – Rumi
Small talk can get you in trouble.
This past Friday, I attended an elegant dinner filled with people who, by many measures, have made many right decisions throughout their lives.
I told another guest the story of our coming to the UK, how we hemmed and hawed and finally decided to go for it. I ended with my signature rhetorical question, ‘What is life, after all, if not a big adventure?’
He looked at me with bright blue eyes and a remarkably young-looking face and asked, ‘So was it the right decision?’
‘It was the decision we made.’
‘But was it the right decision?’ he insisted, his blue eyes becoming piercing. For a moment, I felt like an undergraduate, trapped in the corner, not knowing the answer to something I was supposed to have learned for that week’s supervision.
I straightened my back, looked directly at him, and responded, ‘I don’t know.’
Soon dessert was served and we all changed conversation partners, much like at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. I spent the rest of the meal heartily agreeing with another dinner guest about the beauty of Vancouver and our shared wisdom of choosing graduate schools based on geographic location (my choice: Boulder).
But over the weekend, the question rolled around in my brain, surfacing again and again. Was it the right decision?
Because I couldn’t say ‘yes,’ I tried out the taste of ‘no.’ Could I say ‘No, I wish I hadn’t been here in the UK for the past 7 years. No, the chance to visit many corners of Europe isn’t something I value. No, it hasn’t been the right decision to meet people from so many countries, hear their stories, open my ears and heart to their perspectives. No, I wouldn’t want the experience of living in a culture that is different from the one I grew up in. No, I wouldn’t want my children to know in their bones that there are many ways and places to live. No, challenging assumptions and expanding worldviews was not what I wanted or hoped for from my life, just a series of right answers?’ I couldn’t say any of these.
Was it the right decision? I couldn’t say yes. But even more than that, I couldn’t say no.
It took me a few days to realize that the question was faulty. While grammatically and syntactically correct, it was fundamentally broken. It’s like choosing between night and day, autumn and spring. For some questions, we may be able to speak a resounding yes or a thundering no. Not this one.
I believe ‘Was it the right decision?’ is an impossible question for decisions with existential gravity. These decisions, instead of being right or wrong, are choices between paths. Paths with varying views, different travellers, unexpected turns. Perhaps those paths lead to Rumi’s field. I’ll meet you there.