Narrative reasoning for decision-making and embracing radical uncertainties are of paramount importance in the face of the current environment in this city

Beijing’s announcement of the determination to implement the new national security law in Hong Kong stirred up anxiety in Hongkongers as more uncertainties are expected in Hong Kong’s economic, political and societal situations. The increase in anxiety was immediately reflected from the drastic drop in the Heng Sang Index on the day of the announcement. As Hongkongers, we are facing lots of unknown unknowns in various aspects in this city. How can we cope with our inevitable anxiety in our decision-making process in the face of these uncertainties?

Economists John Kay and Mervyn King in their book, “Radical Uncertainty”, suggested that for making decisions in this radically uncertain world, we need to use narrative reasoning rather than probabilistic reasoning. The fact that the world is full of radical uncertainties means that we are living in such a dynamic world that there are lots unknown unknowns that make statistical models and generic theories inadequate. Instead of trying to make decisions only based on models, theories and probabilities, we need to go into the narrative, the stories. That is to ask the question, “What is going on here?”

By narrative reasoning, Kay and King mean that all relevant events need to be taken into account and the decision outcome depends on the quality of the explanation of these events. The quality of the explanations is related to the credibility and coherence of the narrative. In this sense, we as Hongkongers need to understand and know the stories related to our current environment in an overarching way. In fact, we need to access stories from credible sources that make sense. The stories should also be in a coherent account for us to analyse the situation as best as we can. That is, the stories have to be internally consistent.

With the narratives, most of us make decisions with our judgement, instinct and emotions. In this sense, we must cultivate self-awareness of our inner experiences and emotions, and be able to manage them in a level that is conducive to an adaptive decision-making process. By cultivating mindful awareness of our internal state, we can better consider our emotional information for decision-making.

Furthermore, in the face of all the unknown unknowns, we need practical knowledge in our decision-making process. There is no single model or theory that we can rely on for decision-making. In fact, we need to be open-minded and eclectic in our decision-making process. In this dynamic world with all the constant changes and unexpected events, our practical knowledge and eclecticism help us to keep modifying our decisions and strategies to face all the unforeseeable circumstances.

Social connection is also important in the face of radical uncertainties in this world. As problems and issues are becoming more complicated and unpredictable, collective effort is more effective in applying practical knowledge and eclecticism in the decision-making process. A single person is impossible to know all the factors and dynamics. Therefore, a credible and coherent narrative needs the cooperation of groups.

To conclude, our resilience depends on our acceptance of the unknown unknowns we are all facing and ability to make plans and options accordingly. If we can embrace the uncertainties, we can appreciate the bright side of being in an uncertain world. In fact, humans thrive in the face of radical uncertainty.

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