Pinch of Salt Graphic (English)

You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

You're between a rock and a hard place.

A bit more positively, you've reached a fork in the road.

You're faced with two doors.

So what do you do? Doing nothing isn't an option. How do you make a decision?

There have been times when I've been completely baffled by decisions made by our city's policy makers. Most of the time, that's because I'm not aware of or don't understand the process they used to make the decision.

Then there are times when I've just felt sorry for them. That happens most often when it is a council person trying to meet the needs/wants of their constituents — especially when there are two or more sides in the fight.

Here's an example. It's hypothetical. Really.

A group of residents are sick and tired of the racetrack in front of their homes. People speed there primarily because the road is two lanes in each direction, but also because California drivers always speed. Some of the residents have kids, others just like to walk across the street once in awhile.

They say a stop sign or three might help. How about speed bumps?

We all know nothing can be done in this city without a study, so the council person enlists the help of the city traffic engineers (also a good way to spread the credit — or blame). After the required six- or nine- or 12-month study, the engineers come back with what they think is a win-win-win decision. How about reducing the street to one lane in each direction? That will automatically slow traffic down. And to do that, let's add parking in a parking-impacted area. Oh, and we can get another of Long Beach's famous bike lanes.

Sounds pretty good, the council person thinks. We'll do one of those consensus-building community meetings, then go for it.

So the decision is made, using some empirical data and meeting a need.

Only another side rears its head. Congestion is going to be horrendous, they say. Commuters cutting through are going to come down our streets instead. How could you spend money this way when there are so many other needs?

It's all a good reason not to run for public office.

It does illustrate the whole damned if you do, damned if you don't thing, though.

There are lots of ways people come to decisions, large and small. Some people make lists of pros and cons before making a big decision. Others ask for advice — or check their horoscope.

When you're really, really old like I am, you tend to rely on your experience. Recall what happened the last time you did something a certain way, then either do it the same way or do the exact opposite.

For example, I like spicy food, particularly jalapeño peppers. But when I eat a lot of jalapeños, my stomach protests vociferously an hour or two later. So I prudently avoid jalapeños, or at least exercise moderation. That is, most of the time. Occasionally, my decision is influenced by my craving, no matter how forcefully I remind myself of the consequences.

I'll make it more personal. How do I decide what stories to run in the paper or put on our website? I count on my experience, and my knowledge of the community. I like to think I know what our readers want.

Only sometimes I decide to put something in I think readers should know, whether they want to or not. A good chunk of that government coverage I like so much falls in that category.

I know most of you won't read the city budget story, or won't read past the first couple of paragraphs. But I'm compelled to write the whole thing so you know where to go when you suddenly decide it might impact you personally — and it almost always does.

For the last decade or two, I've added prayer to my decision-making routine for the really big things. Maybe to you that's looking deep within yourself for your real motivations, your understanding of what doing the right thing means. From the results so far, I think the prayer thing is working for me.

Then again, we could always go down the road less traveled by. I'd be careful making decisions based on a poet's thoughts, though. They're dreamers, you know.

Just sayin'.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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