How Am I Affecting Myself and Others?

Keystone Principle #3 – All choices have consequences

Voluntary National Content Standards: #3


That choices have consequences is a fact.  While the term is often used to describe the negative results, it is every bit as important to stress to students the beneficial results of their choices.  The exact relationship between a choice and a consequence, however, can be more difficult to ascertain than one at first might think.

Sometimes we see a consequence and, not knowing the cause, we ascribe to it the wrong one, because we have not differentiated between correlation and causation.  Adding to the confusion, it can be difficult to differentiate between a proximate cause and those things which merely exacerbate or enhance the consequence.

Sometimes the consequence is unintended and therefore can be hard to recognize when we are expecting something entirely different.  For example, a young child might really want a puppy and he carefully considers the cost of training, feeding, walking, and playing with the puppy.  Anticipating the companionship a pet will bring and being willing to accept the responsibility of caring for it, the child is delighted when the pet arrives.  But overlooked was the propensity of puppies to chew things – including that favorite toy or the nice, new slippers.  The child may find it easy to be angry with the puppy for doing what puppies do, rather than understanding that the real problem is that all the consequences were not anticipated.  This is actually a terrific teachable moment for a child.  It is tempting to think that when a result is contrary to our intentions, the fault must lie with someone or something else.  We are reluctant to see our own culpability as we set in motion the events that lead to an undesirable outcome.  Until we are able accurately to link the choices we make to the consequences that follow, our decision-making skills are deeply compromised.

There are examples of intentions gone awry in all disciplines.  Any activity employing the scientific method is an especially good illustration of the need to monitor and understand consequences.


I. Understanding

  • The consequences of our choices lie in the future.
  • Predictability of consequences improves decision-making, while unpredictability (lack of a clear, definable pattern) leads to inconsistent decision-making.
  • While we do our best to account for all consequences of our choices, there are often unintended consequences which were not anticipated.  For example, if price is our only consideration in buying a used car, we may have a very expensive surprise when it is frequently in the shop.
  • Choices made in the past that led to undesirable outcomes cannot be undone, but they are good learning experiences and enable us to make more sound choices in the future.
  • Our character is the sum of the thousands of choices we make throughout our lives.
  • Understanding the past can help us start in the present to make choices that can change the future.
  • Children need a framework for making choices that considers costs and benefits.  This knowledge is best gained at as early an age as possible, NOT saved for adulthood.

II. Skills

Students will be able to:

  • Use a decision grid to
    • Identify the problem
    • Prioritize alternative solutions and select the two best
    • Make a list of the foreseeable positive and negative consequences of each choice
    • Select the best choice
  • Identify positive and normative economic statements.


I. Concept Vocabulary

  • Consequences – A result or effect of an action or decision; may be positive or negative.
  • Short-term costs – The costs of a decision that occur in the present or near future.
  • Long-term costs – The costs of a decision that occur in the more distant future.
  • Unintended consequences – The unexpected and unplanned results of a decision or action.

II. Journals

Initial Prompt (to be done during the introduction of this monthly theme/principle):

  • How have choices your parents or family made affected your life?
  • Describe a time when you did something that had either a strong positive or negative effect in someone else’s life.
  • What kind of effect do you want your life to have with your family and friends, and your community?

General assignment:

Choose one or two of the quotations and write a journal entry of at least half a page. For K-2nd grades, you may do this exercise as part of a discussion. Or, ask the students to draw an illustration of a quotation or the monthly theme/principle.

  1. Restate the idea in your own words
  2. Say whether or not you agree with the statement
  3. Explain why you agree or disagree
  4. Discuss how you have seen it expressed in your own life

III. Quotations:

  1. “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” Stephen R. Covey
  2. “Wisdom consists in the anticipation of consequences.” Norman Cousins
  3. “It will often be found that men who are constantly lamenting their luck are in some way or other reaping the consequences of their own neglect, mismanagement, improvidence, or want of application.”  Samuel Smiles
  4. “Quite often good things have hurtful consequences. There are instances of men who have been ruined by their money or killed by their courage.”  Aristotle
  5. “Too great a preoccupation with motives (especially one’s own motives) is liable to lead to too little concern for consequences.” Katherine Whitehorn
  6. “If my intentions are good, my outcome must be good; therefore, this negative consequence is not my fault.”  Donna Broughton
  7. “The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond.  The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences.  The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the polity will be on all groups.”  Henry Hazlitt
  8. “I was in the drug store the other day trying to get a cold medication…Not easy.  There’s an entire wall of products you need.  You stand there going, `Well, this one is quick acting, but this is long lasting…` Which is more important, the present or the future?”  Jerry Seinfeld


Even the Pilgrims Couldn’t Make it Work (from the Powell Center Lessons)

Late to Class: What Does It Cost Me? (from the Powell Center Lessons)

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (from the Powell Center Lessons)

Costs and Benefits of the ‘Three Little Pigs (an EconEdLink online lesson)

Country Mouse Makes a Decision (an EconEdLink online lesson)

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