All of us, whether knowingly or not, spend a large portion of our lives making decisions that are based upon probability. It affects our professional, romantic, family, and spiritual lives in ways we may not readily comprehend. The mysterious influence exerted by probability can steer us towards desired results or detour us away from undesired consequences.
The probability of being struck by lightning (576,000:1) is less than that of winning an Academy Award (11,500:1). Does that mean that you will go out in the middle of a thunderstorm, carrying a golf club, and recite Hamlet’s soliloquy from Act V Scene I? Of course not! The probability of being canonized (20,000,000:1) is less than the probability of winning an Olympic medal (662,000:1). Do we have priests all over the world removing their white collars and training for the decathlon? Absolutely not! The probability of being injured by fireworks (19,556:1) is much lower than an injury from shaving (6,585:1). So, are men all around the world growing goatees while twirling sparklers over their heads? I would hazard to say not!
There can be a certain absurdity to probability; especially for those situations that are obscure and do not affect our day-to-day lives. The fact that I stand a one in 10,000 chance of discovering a four-leaf clover on the first try does not hover in my mind on a regular basis. Still, it would be quite an accomplishment, right? Instead, most of us only consider the most immediate and familiar probability.
No matter how upset we may become; each of us would opt not to scream profanities at our boss. There is a high probability that if we chose to, we would find ourselves fired! I highly doubt that most of you would casually inform your spouse that they had gained weight. There is a high probability that you are going to hurt their feelings; not to mention, end up spending the night on the couch! I would not be going out on too much of a limb if I stated that most readers of this blog post would pass on juggling chain saws that are running. Yes, the probability of losing a hand is probably extremely high!
Indeed, these are some highly obvious examples that I have just cited. Still, it gives you a sense of how probability can leverage itself into influencing our decisions and lives. But what of the more subtle situations? What about that probability that has never really entered into your thinking. We can call it embedded probability; or if you prefer probably probable probability!
My faithful hound Xena and I take a walk around 5:30 every morning. Most of the year, it is still pitch dark outside at that ungodly hour! Like any good dog on a walk, Xena takes care of relieving bodily needs over the course of the trot. The probability that someone will see me ignore my dog’s droppings in a dark corner of their lawn is pretty low. Still, I go over with a plastic bag and thoroughly pick up her waste. Why? Because regardless of the odds of being caught; it is simply the right thing to do!
What is the probability that you will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year? They only give out one and there are about 7 billion people on this planet; I think you can take the math from there. Yet is that going to keep you from buying a meal for a homeless person, hugging a distraught stranger, or anonymously shoveling the snow off a neighbor’s sidewalk? Not in the least!
You can surely accept that the Nobel committee is not stalking your every waking moment. What does keep you from performing these good deeds, and countless others, is the fact that most likely nobody is watching! There will not be somebody there to pat you on the back and tell you what a wonderful thing you did! Instead, you will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that you simply did the right thing.
So ask yourself a very simple question. “Will I do the right thing, every time, based upon probability; or will I do it simply because it is the right thing?” Today I made only one decision based upon probability; I wrote this blog post. The way I figured it, my probability of touching one other soul out there was somewhere around 1:1.