Simple choices? Not in this election

Troy Marshall

September 15, 2016

6 Min Read
Simple choices? Not in this election
<p>iStock photo</p>

Computer programmers love the simplicity of a binary world and an either-or question. Cattlemen face binary questions every day, too. Sometimes you love a choice and it is no issue, and sometimes you are a realist and pick the route that provides the most benefit.

I don’t like the decision between hauling the old cow to town or keeping her around and having her succumb to old age on my place. But those aren’t tough decisions because realistically there are only two options and one is better than the other. 

What’s more, I’ve often resented picking the lesser of two evils. My mom was a full blown optimist, and she taught me that if you don’t like either choice, there is a third option and that is to go out and create a choice you love. That is great advice, but it doesn’t apply to all choices. The current presidential election is a glaring example. 

This year’s election has created more dissatisfaction among voters than ever before, simply because we don’t like either option. Voters are wondering how the system could have failed them so profoundly. The Republican establishment just can’t wrap their minds around the fact that, with a talent-laden field of candidates that initially seemed like an embarrassment of riches, the party eventually nominated one of the few people in the world who could actually lose to Hillary Clinton.   

The Democrats were never given a realistic choice, and they resent and regret that. Don’t get me wrong; there is enthusiasm on both sides of this race, but mostly because of the passionate dislike that supporters of one candidate have for the other candidate. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to a Clinton or a Trump supporter, odds are they justify their choice based more on the negatives of their opponent than the strengths of their candidate.

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But in the end we will all make a binary choice. Voting for a third party candidate is equivalent of voting for your worst option -- it is nonsensical at its core. We have two options; we vote for the crook or the uncouth and that is the only realistic choice that voters must make. It is a binary choice, if an unpleasant one.

A lot of decisions in life are between more than two options, but more options don’t necessarily make the decision easier. Take your relationship with God. You believe or you don’t, but you then have to decide whether you are going to become a committed follower, an enthusiastic fan on the sideline or a believer in name only.

Sometimes, I choose to not make a decision, which as has often been pointed out is actually making a choice as well. I think many times I don’t make a choice because I’m simply hoping for a better option to emerge. My dad says that every important decision in life, if done right, precludes looking back. One decision may spawn a host of others, but they are always made looking forward. 

It is like getting married. Once you say “I do,” that decision is over and all your decisions should be based on the fact that “you did.” We may decide to change paths, but we should choose to not waste regret on past decisions.

That is why I love working with cattlemen and horsemen. We don’t agree on everything, but there is that code that everyone understands – respect others, respect the animals, respect the land and perform your job with a level of quality that reflects the character and values of the person you ascribe to be. 

I was reading a book on motivation called Drive that challenges a lot of the conventional wisdom on motivation. Its conclusion is that the classical theory of punishment and reward is wholly inadequate and in many cases even counterproductive. It talks about an intrinsic drive that is fueled by three elements: autonomy (give me a goal, a job, and get out of my way and let me get ‘er done); mastery (passion, knowledge, time, sacrifice, work ethic all combined to truly master something) and; purpose (do something with meaning and value).

I think that is why people love cowboys and ranchers and the lifestyle we live because it is based on those intrinsic qualities, the code that embraces those elements of autonomy, mastery and purpose. It is why cattlemen love what they do, even if monetarily there are better options.

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The cowboy way of making a choice is clear; decide and go full steam ahead. It is a life without regret and a life focused on doing what is “right.” In today’s world, we are taught that there is no right or wrong, that it is all a matter of perception. But the cattle business points out the fallacy of that perception. Not only does right and wrong exist, the path you take determines your future and it is not to be taken lightly. 

Decisions have consequences. More times than not, the hard path is the right path, and it leads to a much better destination in the end. Brenn Hill, a cowboy western music artist, has a song about two cowboys riding in a storm, and the old cowboy tells the young one that this is where you separate the cowboys from the men.

The old cowboy says you can turn around, ride home and wait for the storm to pass or you can pull your collar up, your hat down and ride into the wind. Of course, the young cowboy gets it and rides into the wind. It is a simple binary choice. 

As cattlemen, as people of faith, the decisions are usually pretty straight forward. Elections not so much, but the contrasts are stark and the consequences significant. We probably shouldn’t spend much time lamenting that neither option is ideal. Rather we will have to make a choice based on our own conscious and then pull our collars up, our hats down and ride into the wind.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of and the Penton Agriculture Group.


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