“Pick battles big enough to matter, small
enough to win.” — Jonathan Kozol


In the realm of life’s little lessons, this seems axiomatic. The
problem is that many of the battles that are big enough to matter aren’t small
enough to win; and those that are small enough to win tend not to matter. The
challenge is in knowing when to fight and when to walk away. Kozol’s advice is
to fight if the outcome matters and you can win, otherwise walk away. Although
this is certainly a practical approach to self-preservation, it’s also a clear
cop out. There are battles that matter way too much to avoid, even though
winning is far from certain.


The more important lesson may be in David Russell’s observation,
“The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to
burn.” Life is full of conflicts and tensions, battles large and small, bridges
to cross and bridges to burn. Life is a journey; and usually, when it isn’t
working out, you can change direction, back up and start again, and generally
change your plans. Now and then, though, the bridge has burned and there is no
turning back, nothing to do but live with the choices you have made.


No, there isn’t an easy way to know when to cross that bridge
and when to let it burn, when to be decisive and when to equivocate, when to
hold back and when to make an irreversible choice. However, there are questions
that you can ask and answer before choosing.


1. “Am I burning any bridges by making this choice?”


2. “Are the bridges being burned ones over which I may want to
cross again?”


3. “If I cannot cross a bridge again, what will I do instead, if
the time comes when doing something else is necessary?”


4. “If I cross this bridge, how will I handle it, if things
don’t work out as I hope they will?”


5. “How will I be worse off if I neither cross the bridge ahead
of me nor burn the one behind me, including the lost opportunity cost?”


So, you have asked the questions. You have answered the questions.
What next? Stand up straight, take a deep breath, and deal with that bridge.
Cross it; burn it; take a different road; but whatever you choose, don’t forget
the old Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.”