In order to manage the symptoms and side-effects of my cancer treatment, I’m taking a lot of medications. As a result, there are days where my afternoons - or part of them - pass in a bit of a fog. As at least one medicine warns, ‘may cause drowsiness.’ Of course, a nap is permitted, and often taken, but still, there is that sense of I should be doing something productive.
It’s a trade-off - symptoms under control on the one side, slowing down on the other.
This got me thinking about the whole concept of a trade-off because, really, so much of life is about trade-offs. We’re engaged in trade-offs all the time. It may well be that the kinds of things we’re willing to trade for, or trade-off, reveals a lot about our personalities, who we are.
A trade-off is not simply an exchange of one thing for another, although some trade-offs are ‘only’ exchanges. Buying groceries, for instance, is not a trade-off. Buying lettuce instead of cabbage, though, might be. For example, we really want cabbage for cole-slaw, but the family wants a tossed salad.
A trade-off, then, involves at least a regret, if not a loss. Now the loss may be more than compensated for - the praise and thanks we get from the family for the tossed salad more than makes up for not having (or delaying) the cole slaw. And in retrospect, the trade-off may be all to our benefit. (We put too much mayonnaise or vinegar in the cole slaw, anyway.) But at the moment of the trade-off, we have at least a tinge of regret.
Without trade-offs, then, we don’t really grow or change. We exchange a tricycle for a bicycle. We leave high school behind and move on to college. We take a job closer to home, with less pay, instead of the higher-paying job in a city where we don’t know anyone. Or vice versa.
Of necessity, a trade-off also involves a reduction of possibilities. In other words, a trade-off is not just about moving from the past to the present, it’s also about closing off future options. An obvious example is when we decide to marry our spouse,we are no longer interested in the possibility of marrying someone else.
Trade-offs also involve lifestyle changes. These can be traumatic at first - like when a Jewish person decides to start keeping kosher, and no longer eats shellfish, or anyone decides to eat healthier and stops eating all that fast food and junk food.
Some trade-offs can’t be avoided. Doctor’s orders to maintain our health. Going from playing softball on a Sunday to sitting in the bleachers because of our age.
Trading off is a way of reordering our priorities. When we decide to be less involved in gossip, to get less riled up over sensationalist headlines over which we have not control, we’re giving up a pleasure for being more responsible.
We make a lot of trading off choices without necessarily thinking about them. And we often talk about our decisions in a way that may focus on that twinge of regret I mentioned, even though we have no intention of changing our minds or going backwards.
Trading off can be hard because it forces us to confront our principles and decide what’s really important. It also forces us to recognize our limitations. We can’t have it all or do it all - so what’s really important?
In this sense, trading off may also involve self-sacrifice. This weekend was the 50th anniversary of Selma. Those who participated in that march, and there was a wide variety of people who did, sacrificed a degree of security and entered the unknown. They risked being attacked. They did not know if they would be successful, achieve the purpose of the march.
Not all trade offs are large stage or life altering. But they do require consideration of alternatives. To conclude with another example from my situation, this next round of chemotherapy will be more intense. There’s a risk of increased side-effects. It’s a trade off - the chance to be more aggressive attacking the tumor versus the possibility of more severe side-effects.
The next time you’re faced with a dilemma or a tough decision, whether about something material or spiritual, consider the concept of a trade-off. It might make the process easier.