Every day my Facebook feed is filled with pleas that I need to vote for one or the other major party presidential candidate because he or she “is the lesser of two evils.” Further, if I vote my conscience and vote for a third party candidate, “you are wasting your vote.” What an interesting idea: a person is accomplishing nothing if they fail to choose between two evils. Are there really situations where the only option is to choose the least evil option? Starving or drowning? Bankruptcy or liquidation? Mao or Stalin? ISIS or Al Qaeda? Any of the Kardashian sisters?
Thinking about this in a broader context than the 2016 Election, it seems to me that once something is framed as the lesser of two evils, failure is inevitable. We have created a lose-lose scenario that must end badly. Should we accept no win situations in our lives or our businesses? In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, we learn about the Kobayashi Maru; a simulation created by Star Fleet to test the character of ship commanders by presenting them with a lesser of two evils scenario. Not surprisingly, we also learn that Capitan James Kirk is the only commander to ever have beaten the Kobayashi Maru. He accomplishes this impossible feat by reprograming the simulation to create another option: a winning scenario.
Kirk cheated, which would appear to be the ultimate failure of a test of character. In reality, however, he did what all successful people must do when faced with the two evils, he reframed the problem to create additional options. It is human nature when faced with problems and the development of a crisis mentality to react in a binary manner. Things appear to be all or nothing and too often each of the binary options is unattractive. It is precisely in these situations that we need to take a step back from our emotions and fears and find a broader perspective. This starts by looking at how we have “framed” the issue. A frame, by definition, limits options by narrowing our perspective to what can exist within the constraints imposed by the frame. Within the rules of the simulation of the Kobayashi Maru there was no way to win, but the rules were an artificial constraint created by the programmer. This is also true of most problems we face in life, finance, health, business and charities.
When faced with the lesser of two evils, we do not have to play by the rules. Among our alternatives are creating a third option by reflecting on the ultimate goal and other ways to achieve that goal. We theoretically elect a President to lead the country and improve our society. We could view the 2016 election as a wake-up call that we all need to get more involved in creating the society we want to live in and not delegate so much power to elected officials. If we are faced with losing our great job or relocating to an undesirable location, we might be able to find satisfaction in starting our own business in our home town.
A deeper perspective might also allow us to realize that a seemingly losing scenario offers potential benefits. A prolonged illness can be an opportunity to reflect and reassess what is truly important.
Finally, we can look at the bad options and realize that this is a game we do not want to play anymore. Sometimes the personal, emotional and physical costs of a career, business, or relationship are simply not worth it any more. This is not something to be taken lightly, but if things are so bad that from any perspective we would describe the options as “evil,” maybe it is time to consider walking away or voting for that third party candidate.
So here we are in America facing our electoral Kobayashi Maru and we all have to figure out how we want to handle our decision. For me, I am just trying to remember the immortal words of the great sage, Prince, who we lost in 2016:
“If the elevator starts to bring you down,
Go Crazy! Punch a higher floor.”