As someone who attempts, however unsuccessfully, to take a larger view of life, I am often struck by how most people live their lives tactically and not strategically. This happens over and over again, so much so that at times I have to ponder what it is that people are thinking when they live life, and if they are thinking at all or simply responding to the circumstances of life without any idea of consequences or plans or even some basic aspects of self-interest. If people do not act in ways that would serve their interests because of narrow short-term considerations, how is it that people are to be encouraged to behave any better? After all, most of the ways that are promoted to make life better require a great deal of strategic thinking, and if people are not even thinking on that level, such appeals are likely to fall on deaf ears because the intended audience cannot even conceive of what is being advised. That is an immensely depressing thought, so let us discuss some of the ways in which tactical thinking pervades everyday life in a variety of fields, which is far more entertaining.
One of the benefits of not having a ridiculous commute any longer is the fact that I no longer have to rant about it taking hours to get to and from work . That said, when I was enjoying my dinner last night, in the midst of all of my waiting, I was struck by a comment made by someone else about the abominable traffic around that brought out the reason why our traffic, and that of many other areas, is so bad, because cities and other layers of government are engaged in tactical and not strategic thinking when it comes to infrastructure. The comment was simple and elegant and true: building houses makes money, but building roads costs money. And this is the truth–cities like increasing in population because it means an increased tax base, but they do not like building the infrastructure in roads and schools that support this increased population, and so there are portable classrooms and clogged roads because of tactical thinking. It is not as if there is bad strategic thinking, but rather the thinking exists on a tactical level so strategic considerations simply do not enter into the picture. Of course, for drivers too the thinking is often tactical–how do I find the quickest route home from work to where I live, not how should I live my life so that it is less stressful overall. Everyone involved is thinking tactically rather than strategically.
This happens more often than one would think. It happens a lot at work, it should be noted. There are a group of agents, for example, that I was asked to deal with twice today, once at the beginning of my workday and once towards the end of the day, and it struck me that these agents were largely unproductive in taking calls. They work in an industry, namely health insurance sales, where the busiest time is between the beginning of November and the end of January, which is the only time most people can get health insurance, and they somehow manage to not show up to work or want to work during those times where they are getting the most money. Obviously there is no sound strategic thinking there. That said, there is often little sound strategic thinking higher up either, as most people on all levels of life at work, especially when things are stressful, are simply acting according to the pressures that exist and not planning and working towards goals and showing a willingness to stick with a plan even in the midst of present chaos, if there is a plan to begin with at all. Vision is not very common among people, no matter how often it is discussed as a matter of organizational survival and business theory.
Why are tactics so common in life? Those who wish to provide advice will give some kind of sound advice on how to develop a loving relationship with one’s spouse, assuming one has one, or how to have financial success or to keep one’s weight and health under control will give strategic thinking involving matters like communication and respect for the one and diet and exercise for the other, but to follow this advice requires some sort of strategic thinking that makes plans in light of one’s goals and interests and then executes those plans in the face of difficulties in order to achieve a higher good beyond the chaos of contemporary existence. Yet if we are not thinking strategically, all we are doing is acting in response to that chaos, to the increase of prices or the demands of the moment, to our own immediate convenience, without having anything that we are reaching toward or planning for beyond existing. And as a result we sell ourselves short, and live lives that are far more frustrating and difficult than they would need to be. How are we to soar like eagles and break out of the grind when we spend our existence snoring like beagles and living day to day, seeking no higher aim than to roll with the punches that life provides, and not plan so that we may punch life back where it hurts.
 See, for example: