Utility

An undervalued value and my core guiding principle.

Posted Oct 10, 2019

Drops #5, Wikimedia, CC 2,.0
Source: Drops #5, Wikimedia, CC 2,.0

Everyone has a foundational principle from which everything flows. Mine is utility: What will most benefit my sphere of influence and even the world?

Utility guides how I spend each hour. For example, I have concluded that writing these Psychology Today posts (now more than 1,500 of them) is a good use of my time. It uses my best skill (practical communication), which enables me, in just a few hours of work for each post, to hopefully improve the lives of many people.

Utility even guides how I eat. I choose quick-to-make things. A typical day is yogurt and fresh fruit for breakfast, a sandwich and fruit for lunch, and broiled chicken with steamed, seasoned broccoli for dinner, maybe ice cream for dessert. Those items being so quick to shop for and make frees me up to do things of greater utility, again promising greater benefit to my sphere of influence.

Utility also guides my voting decisions. As I consider who to vote for in the 2020 election, I will focus on utility: which candidate, based on substance, will do more in the long run to enhance humankind.

Lastly, utility guides my policy views. My Ph.D. specialized in the evaluation methodology of individuals, programs, and policies. That enables me to weigh the cost-benefit and opportunity costs of, for example, efforts to cool the planet, social-uplift programs, and redistribution based on income, race, and gender: How are fiscal and human resources best spent to enhance humankind? Again, for me, utility (ahem) trumps all.

Of course, as human beings, none of us always follows our core principle. For example, I have a time-consuming doggie (Hachi,) enjoy watching movies with my wife, and have given money to the homeless, even though I know there are wiser charities.

But having a guiding principle is core to the life well-lived. Perhaps yours is the pursuit of happiness or of work-life balance. I invite you to consider whether a wiser choice might be utility.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

This is part of a series on undervalued values.

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