Discernment.

Sarah Peck is inviting writers to reflect on the theme of discernment in the month of January.

From her post: 

Discernment: What is it? What does it mean to be discerning?

How do you decide? How do you know?

Discernment is “the ability to judge well.”

It is, to me, about our own internal ways of knowing.

How do you know?

Discernment is going to be important for me in 2017 as I make at least one big transition: to a new career, one in writing or editing, or perhaps it will be something else.

I need to create better and new content this year, for my blog. I hope, to paraphrase what This American Life host Ira Glass, that I’m maturing into a phase of knowing what’s good and being able to produce good things now that I’ve gotten a lot of terrible things created behind me. Though being discerning, I’d say I can write a decent story, but still feel I have a ways to go.

I am learning to edit better, to know what reads well, at least online. There’s always more to learn, of course, and there is more experience heading my way in 2017.

For most of my life, I’ve discerned things based on scientific evidence. And for things where science can’t test or hasn’t yet, discerning is a lot harder. Relying on science as a scientist makes sense (and the knowledge science has provided us, that gives us our modern world as well as the complexity and deepness of nature.

Science tells us that humans have a lot of cognitive biases that do make sense in some ways, but aren’t always suited to the modern world where critical thinking and taking in evidence to inform beliefs is important (homeopathy is BS, climate change is happening, and vaccines do work – denying these things costs money, public health, and makes the planet less livable and simply goes against a long track record of scientific evidence). The evidence-based discernments are relatively easy assuming there’s time to consider the evidence or have trusted sources putting out the case (science requires openness and trust).

However, science can’t inform everything. Making decisions every day requires discernment absent the time to carefully consider a lot of the time. Emotions come into play. Why do I feel attracted to someone? How do I spend/invest money? Will going to that conference benefit my career?

Discerning those things is harder, and often simply goes by what ‘feels’ right after a few days of deliberation. I often feel my snap decisions aren’t the good ones, especially if they’re big. There may be a hit to taking a decision after deliberation in that it will be less satisfying once made. However, there is something to be said for having an initial feeling one way or another and then spending some time challenging that initial feeling to ask where it might be wrong, or to ask friends where our own discernment might be off.

Discerning is hard for me. Making decisions often not easy, even the small ones. I like to say I have a high activation energy to reach a discerning point. These internal ways of knowing for me are fraught. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve denied how I feel a lot less and think that I am generally happier for it while also living in my means (part of discernment: not spending tons of money on things).

Last, I am trying more and more to discern things from a standpoint of abundance, not scarcity. The Scarcity mindset (even if there are real reasons to have it) is limiting. Basically making decisions for you. I am in a relatively privileged position that I can, really, make decisions from abundance, though in my life as a PhD student and postdoc has felt like one of scarcity. As I’m exiting academia, as I’ve done more entrepreneurial things like getting involved in my scientific society, starting a podcast with friends, blogging, science writing, etc., discerning feels better and a bit easier.

Discerning is a combination of the rational built up over time, feeling, and just what influences obvious and invisible affect our growth and environment.

How do you discern?

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