The Problem with Plans

Some days it’s wrong to expect things will go as planned, assuming of course, that one has made a plan for things to go by. Plans, as the philosopher has observed, are merely ideas that fly into our heads to support the mistaken assumption that we have control over things outside of our own thoughts. This craving we have for plans is spurred by our innate fear that without them, our lives will rocket out of control and crash to the ground in a loud explosion, just as we realize that we hadn’t planned for this to happen.

Plans are seen as useful in that they purport to provide us mere mortals with the favorable direction and guidance needed to accomplish our mundane goals and lofty aspirations. This is both ironic and comical as we fail to realize that these plans are made by the same flawed human beings (us) compelled to create them in the first place. Similarly, it is often noted that one mans’ plans are another mans’ tyranny. Just ask anyone who lived in the former Soviet Union. Under the yoke of various murderous dictators, the masses suffered a dreary succession of Five Year Plans, which in reality were discarded every other year when they failed to produce anything beyond perpetual, unplanned misery.

Plans come in all shapes and sizes; battle plans, peace plans, master plans, building plans, vacation plans, business plans, financial plans, career plans, wedding plans, treatment plans, and ultimately, funeral plans. These sundry plans are subject to the ambition, authority and supervision of naturally bossy people and those stuffy, regulatory bodies such as Planning Boards, Wedding Planners, Financial Planners, Planned Parenthood, IKEA Closet Planners and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Further, as plans have been around since Noah built his Arc, why is it that we insist upon making them anew, generation following generation? Can’t we be satisfied with those recorded millennia ago, or were those plans written in disappearing ink and lost to history?

Bureaucracies seem to thrive on profligate plans, much like lawyers thrive on frivolous litigation. When I retired from the police world and took a job with Elder Protective Services, lazy me was much chagrined to learn that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Regulations required me to formulate and submit to my bosses a detailed “Investigation Plan” prior to meeting any Elder reported to be the victim of neglect or in need of assistance in some way. Originally, these plans were elaborate constructions of the old “who, what, where, when and why” questions; workable for sure, but largely discarded in the normal course of human interaction. As administrations changed, and a carpetbagger rocket-scientist type from the left coast was hired to revise the rules, this document “transitioned” to an inchoate slurry of impenetrable, sociological psychobabble, detailing a whole lot of nothing and absorbing needless time and effort. After writing a few hundred of these, it became an enervating exercise to create ones with anything new or documenting even vaguely interesting inquiries. In growing frustration, I reverted to the straightforward simplicity mastered by a former colleague; “I plan to meet the Elder, get him / her to trust me and find out what I can help with.” If anyone in authority ever noted disapproval of my retrogression, they kept it to themselves, and I leave it to you to decide which approach was more effective.

Another form of errant planning I am familiar with concerns those made by people planning to be naughty in some way. Now, I realize that naught behavior assumes dishonesty on the part of the planner, but I have found that some folks are capable of deluding themselves into the belief that their actions are righteous, so please hear me out on this. When we determine to do something that we would not want our mothers to know about, our minds shift to high gear plotting the various steps needed to accomplish our deliciously illicit goal. Our misguided ambitions compel us to believe that we have clearly weighed the pro’s and con’s of each move, crossed all of the T’s and dotted the respective I’s. Ever more motivated by our lust for whatever it is we would be better off without, our eyes blinded and affixed solely on the presumed prize, we fall prey to tunnel vision, discarding all of those red flashing lights signalling “Danger, Danger, Stop NOW!” When the inevitable happens and the Judge announces the verdict leaving us destitute and friendless, we sit in stupefied wonder of how things unraveled so completely and just didn’t go according to plan.

Confidentially, I must confess to you the hypocrisy of my seeming anti-planning attitude. In truth, I am an inveterate planner and list maker. I have voluminous lists of things to do for every day, week, month and year, written upon color-coded pads, spiral notebooks and various sized sticky notes. I meticulously record these plans in pencil only, never ink, as I reserve the right to change them at will and don’t wish to feel beholden to any of them. Writing in pencil allows for easy erasure, thus eliminating the potential guilt associated with the failure to execute any or all of my plans. It can be the best of both worlds.

So by now you realize that most of my plans aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Such is fate of the frivolous minded. But perhaps some day I will remember to reevaluate my current practice and either eliminate planning altogether or embrace it without reservation. Stranger things have happened for sure, but at this age, I wouldn’t plan on it.

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