Speaking a few languages comes in handy on holiday, I’ll admit it. But there’s something that matters a lot more to me: observing how language shapes our perception.
As a non-native English speaker, it’s fascinating for me to compare how decision-making differs from one language to another.
In Romanian we “take” decisions (literal translation).
From this perspective, I imagine myself next to a supermarket shelf full of potential scenarios that a decision could unlock. It’s not just packed with outcomes for yes/no options. It’s chock full of nuanced approaches that are a lot closer to what happens in real life.
As I see it, to choose, in Romanian, is to make that decision yours, to commit to it and follow it through, observing how it changes you and what it teaches you.
This perspective highlights that decisions are not external to us, although we (sometimes) try to be as rational as possible when choosing one option over its alternatives. I believe decisions become interwoven in the fabric of our identity. The more we own them, irrespective of their outcome, the more they can teach us about ourselves.
People “take” decisions not only in Romanian but also in Spanish (“tomar una decisión“), French (“prendre une décision“), Portuguese (“tomar uma decisão“), and Italian (“prendere una decisione“).
English has a different way of framing this process because, in English, we make decisions.
Decision-making or decision-taking?
To me, this implies that decision-making is an art. The books, articles, podcasts, and conversations I’ve had with people around this process speak to its far-reaching, profound consequences that manifest not only after making the decision but also before it.
To make a decision is to dedicate ourselves to building it in our head. Whatever the method, making decisions entails playing with the future in your head to see where things might go from the moment you choose.
This makes us all artists in a sense, giving us the power to be endlessly creative with no real-world consequence. Before we make the decision, we get to project ourselves in potential scenarios and think about how we might feel about the result we opted for.
Wandering inside our heads like this gives us the chance to observe ourselves, which is not something we often get to do. This type of reflection, when given enough consideration, can change us.
So when we arrive at the moment when we have to decide, we already know ourselves more intimately and, maybe, juuuust maybe, we can be a bit more honest about what it is that we truly want and need to happen as a result of this choice.
Making a decision also entails deep involvement. You’re the one in charge of the process. You get to call the shots. Steer the ship. Turn the wheel. (I know, you got it. 😀 )
No matter the circumstances, making a decision means bringing it into existence, transforming it from an idea in your head to a real-life occurrence. That’s a pretty big deal when you look at it like this. It’s also enough reason to decide with intent, as I wrote in a different article.
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The English language – which can be beautifully nuanced – has another main way of looking at decision-making: the process of reaching or arriving at a decision.
If a decision is a destination, the most important component becomes the journey to it – as it’s often the case. It’s this journey that I explore with the guests on the How do you know? podcast.
I believe we can become better humans by learning how to experience this process of exploration. If we notice it, if we allow it, this can be an excellent space for growth.
When comparing these two perspectives – “taking” vs. making decisions – I have to say I’d much rather work with English. I like to get my hands dirty because that’s how I learn the most.
Throughout the last few years, I became increasingly aware of the necessity of building a rich vocabulary. It enables us to talk about the most difficult things that go on inside our heads.
I don’t necessarily mean learning fancy terms from Ph.D. papers (although it’s perfectly fine if it works for you). Vocabulary consists of ways to see the world that are more flexible, more open, more inclusive. Here’s what I mean.
Elizabeth Gilbert partners with inspiration instead of waiting for it to manifest.
“You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting — its partner — and that the two of you are working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile.” – Elizabeth Gilbert – Big Magic
Tom Waits doesn’t write a song, he catches it. He also asks his songs to retry delivery at a more appropriate time.
“Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? If you’re serious about wanting to exist, come back and see me in the studio. I spend six hours a day there, you know where to find me, at my piano. Otherwise, go bother somebody else. Go bother Leonard Cohen.” – Tom Waits
To me, these two attitudes towards the creation process are a great lesson. They teach me there are endless ways to think of a decision:
- we can take it,
- make it,
- go on adventures to find it,
- partner with it,
- or even allow it to pick us by making ourselves available.
I hope this helps expand the way you think about your next decision and widen your horizon to notice new and exciting possibilities.