When I arrived home at 5 PM last Friday, my husband asked a difficult question. “Was it worth driving four and a half hours to participate in a five-hour seminar?” Without hesitation I could answer that in this particular case it was worth it for me. But the bigger question remained: how do you evaluate whether an action or an undertaking you are about to embark on will be worth it? Can you evaluate it before you undertake to act, or do you have to wait for the completion in order to find out? There cannot be a uniform formula, since such evaluation depends on individual personal preferences. However, there need to be some universal rules of evaluation to apply to each situation – preferably before we take on a task or embark on its completion.
Criteria for judgement and evaluation of actions are discussed from different points of view by philosophers. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE) is considered as the father of Utilitarian philosophy which places the element of pleasure as the most important element in moral judgments: “We affirm that pleasure is the beginning and end of the good life. We recognize pleasure as the first good, being natural to us, and it is from pleasure that we begin every choice and avoidance. It is also to pleasure that we return, using it as the standard by which we judge every good [Letter to Menoeceus]. Later on Francis Hutcheson (1694–1747) linked morality with happiness. He urged us to compute the consequences of our actions. He also provided a range of consequences: long-term, short-term, direct, and indirect consequences. Happiness or pleasure are divided into higher intellectual pleasures and lower bodily pleasures. David Hume (1711–1776) added to the theory the idea of morality. Morally right actions are those that produce useful or immediately pleasing consequences for ourselves or others, but the useful longer-term consequences of actions are as important as the immediately pleasing consequences of actions. British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) actually devised a utilitarian calculus by which to quantified any action according to seven criteria: (1) intensity; (2) duration; (3) certainty; (4) remoteness, that is, the immediacy of the pleasure or pain; (5) fecundity, that is, whether similar pleasures or pains will follow; (6) purity, that is, whether the pleasure is mixed with pain; and (7) extent, that is, the number of people affected. He even summarized the criteria in rhyme for better memorization.
“Intense, long, certain, speedy, fruitful, pure –
Such marks in pleasures and in pains endure.
Such pleasures seek if private be thy end:
If it be public, wide let them extend.
Such pains avoid, whichever be thy view:
If pains must come, let them extend to few.”
[Principles of Morals and Legislation, 4:2]
I could go on to bring more current philosophical movements into the discussion, but basically there is not much recent development regarding principles of evaluation. However, my husband insists that what is needed is risk analysis. Risk analysis helps identify and analyze potential issues that could arise during a project or process. It can be used to reduce the impact of a negative event. Evaluate whether there are more benefits to a project than risks before initiation. Plan your response to emergencies or other adverse events. Eliminate risks during a process. Risk analysis is a useful decision-making tool to identify the potential benefits and risks of each option. Once you have identified potential risks, you can determine how best to manage them.
I think that for me the best would be to combine utilitarian principles into any risk analysis I embark upon. Personal values of each person will affect the results of the risk analysis. Therefore last Friday, in spite of the dreadful statistics of road accidents, and the heavy traffic on the roads, there was no option of public transport to return home with. I chose to drive since this was an opportunity I’d waited for a long time. Years ago, I participated in a seminar given by Prof. Mooli Lahad on his first development of the BASIC Ph “islands of resiliency” community recovery model which I’ve used ever since. I admire his creative thinking and his active and empathic treatment of trauma sufferers. I have been fortunate enough to earn his friendship and to enjoy his brilliant lectures full of humor and deep knowledge. You can understand now that when I had an opportunity to enroll in a seminar about his newest development, SEE FAR CBT, a psycho-trauma treatment protocol for PTSD, I was willing to drive as many hours as needed in order to participate.
My reward was one of the exercises in which we had to chose a card that we connected to as our safe place. One card practically jumped up me. It reminded me of an enchanted place in the Rocky Mountains called Lake O’Hara. Not the entire place. A specific spot which I had to reach after an arduous walk, uphill to a rocky outcropping on which I sat dangling my feet over the edge and overlooking an enchanted landscape. This is the closest I ever got in my feelings to G-d. My whole body felt pleasure, open, light as a feather, almost flying. I looked at the card, and I was there, with all my senses. I was fortunate enough to physically visit this place three times in my life. The first time is always the most precious. I sat there for a long time with my husband beside me, just being.
The second time was more dramatic. We were a few years older, no longer sleeping in a tent, but in a small cabin, with 2 of our teenage children and one of their friends. The parents of the friend and his sister came out to join us on a day hike to Twin Falls, another favorite place in Yoho Park. We split into 2 groups. The father and the 2 boys went hiking on the glacier, and we, the older couple, plus the rest of the group, hiked up to Twin Falls and had tea at the teahouse there. The 3 teens had booked space on the late afternoon bus to take them for their night camping at Lake Ohara, and my husband and I planned to return in the morning to hike with them. After tea and rest, we started hiking down the mountain on a different route. My husband, daughter, and young Tamara went down faster, and we two ladies were chatting and ambling along when suddenly I collapsed. I could feel I had fractured my ankle. I asked my friend to tighten the laces on my hiking boot, picked up a branch and slowly, with excruciating pain, started the trek down. There was no other choice. About half way down some other hikers came down, and we asked them to let the park warden know about my injury. A stretcher and medics arrived, and for the last couple of kilometers I was carried out. Off to the hospital in Banff 70 km away, where the X-ray confirmed the fracture, and I was put in a walking cast. We were both allowed to sleep at the hospital, and in the morning we left in a hurry to catch the bus going up to Lake O’Hara to meet the kids. They proceeded on their hike and I stayed on the porch of the lodge, reading, painting, and knitting. I also treated myself to a fancy lunch while looking out the window on a sudden snow flurry. When the gang came back, I invited them to fancy tea with cucumber sandwiches.
The third time was right after our daughter’s wedding, when my sister and brother-in-law visited and we took them on an extended tour of parks in the US and the Rockies in Canada. We spent an entire day in Lake O’Hara. It was August, and many of the wild flowers were in bloom. My sister and I kept stopping to photograph and admire the different blue hues of the 3 hanging lakes. There was one part of the trail that I had to seek on my own, and that was my special safe place. When I sat there again with my feet dangling over the abyss, I felt again the same calm and joy permeating my whole body. It was true. This was indeed my special place, the place where I feel at one with the universe. My wish and dream is to be able to book a room in the lodge for a few nights, and once again to be able to climb to my safe place and stay there for a while close to G-d. Even if it does not happen, now that I have the image seared into my memory, I can always conjure up my safe place and go there.