Just my rambling thoughts about being gay and Mormon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sunk costs


The concept of sunk costs is used mostly in the world of finance when discussing irrecoverable expenditures. It also can apply to any irreversible past action such as commitment, service, faith, and love. 

Our human tendency is to value things a lot more once we have put investment into something. Because of this tendency we often use our sunk costs (money, time, energy, love) to justify making a decision about how to act today. 

One brief example; An abused spouse stays in an abusive relationship because they've been together for a long time. OK, one more example. Scientists have shown that they can actually sway people’s pro-war attitudes by highlighting casualties of a war prior to administering a questionnaire about people's support for the war.

Economists and social scientists know that making today's decisions based on sunk costs is almost always a bad idea. In the examples above, the years the abused spouse spent in an abused life and the dead soldiers are both sunk costs. They really have no bearing on whether the spouse should stay or go or whether the war should continue or end. Sunk costs are tied to the idea of “loss aversion”, which is a preference to minimize losses as opposed to maximizing gains. If the best decision for the well being of the abused spouse is to leave then he/she should do it regardless of the sunk cost of the past relationship. Likewise, if the best decision is to end the war, then it should be done regardless of the past regrettable loss of soldiers lives.

A parallel idea is that you can't live in either the past or the future. You can only live today and make the best decisions you can based on where you are now (or the landscape you are currently in - thus the name of this blog). 

Someone once said, “Play the board as it is, not how you want it to be.”

I like the quote from Michael Novotny's mother in the TV show "Queer as Folk" where she says, "If you've got one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you'll piss on today." More crass, but it gets the point across.

These ideas are important to me because they help explain where I am today with respect to my feelings for and about the LDS Church. I have gained a lot from my participation in the Church but today it seems very irrelevant and potentially harmful for me to continue to invest in it. The high returns are no longer there for me. I can get better returns by investing my emotions, time, and commitment elsewhere. So regardless of the sunk costs, in many respects it's time for me to move on. 

Some will say that this way of thinking does not apply to matters of faith because if the Church is true then to be saved you must stay and be faithful forever regardless of the personal sacrifice involved. I also used to believe that but I don't anymore and I think I've got good reasons (more in future posts). Most importantly, I believe I've got the same spiritual confirmation that it's time to move on that I had before about staying. 

So stop focusing on the sunk costs, live and love and smile, and take a flying leap forward today.


  1. Great post.
    You are absolutely correct in the thoughts around sunk costs. It is more difficult to translate to social issues, but you did well.

    For some, it isn't just the sunk cost of the gospel, because they still have ties or some beliefs in it. For someone who doesn't, this applies well.