As an adjunct to yesterday’s post on holding our beliefs to account is another question with which we should challenge our beliefs: what’s the next best option?
Bailing out the banks might have its down sides, but it’s better than letting them fail. A watered down emissions trading scheme might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing (the Australian Labor Party apparently disagrees). Democracy might be driven by populism and special interest groups, but it’s better than autocracy (or, as Winston Churchill famously put it: “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried”).
Whenever we criticise something, we can’t just stop at that. We need to reflect upon the alternatives to the focus of our criticism and we need to ask ourselves whether the alternatives are any better. If they’re not, then we should temper our criticism and redirect our energies towards improving the current option rather than calling for its abandonment.
All too often I hear criticism that is entirely negative – often justified – but without presenting any realistic or preferable alternatives. Just because an option has downsides doesn’t mean it’s all bad. Taken at face value, this kind of criticism could imply that the best course is to abandon the current option and adopt an alternative. However, even if alternatives are proposed, they tend to be unrealistic, utopian or, occasionally, even worse than the present option.
Development of a viable alternative ought to be the lifelong companion of all criticism. As should be the maxim that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. There are no options without cost – at least, not with matters of great importance. We need to accept the cost, but minimise it to the best of our abilities while maximising the benefits. And we need to accept compromise.
Above all, we need to keep in the back of our mind at all times: what is the next best option?