Being Human, pt. 5 – Good Decision Making

I’ve found that one of the hardest disciplines in life, is the ability to make a good decision.  It is real easy to make bad decisions.  Many who know me well, realize that I watch a lot of court room shows (Judge Mathis, People’s Court, Judy, etc.).  I actually wrote a sermon about how I needed to cut down in my viewing, and I did (but I’m still wicked into them).  I think that the reason I like these shows so much, is that there is a drama being presented, where people have made bad decisions, and a wise person (hopefully) listens, and is charged with making a good decision to cancel out the bad.  This is a form of justice, because bad decisions trap people in relational quagmires that tear friendships and families apart.

The most common problem involves money.  Let’s say for example, that a middle aged mother trusts her young daughter with a $5,000 loan to buy a car.  Because of blood ties, you would think that the daughter would live up to a verbal contract to pay back the $5,000 as soon as the funds were available (in the form of returned tax money, or a slow and steady payment schedule based on income).  But that doesn’t seem to be the case most often according to the court shows.  While the good decision would be to live up to the contract and have a harmonious family, it seems thatmany and varied bad decisions are made.  Decisions that all lead to not paying back the loan.

How is a bad decision made?  I posit it to faulty logic, and having listened to many of these cases, the bad logic goes something like this:

(1) I borrowed money from my family.

(2) Family members are nice.

(3) Nice people don’t ask for money back.

Therefore: (4) I never have to pay back the money.

The problem lies with premise number (3).  In theoretical logic, it does not matter if the premises are true, so long as the conclusion follows from the premises.  But in reality, this does not work.  All the premises need to correspond with the truth of reality, in order for a good/practical conclusion (and thus, good actions based on it) to come about.  In premise (3) in real life, Nice people often do expect that their contracts will be honored (even with family members; who by the way, should be honored as much as those outside of the family), and thus, they will expect that their money will be paid back.  So let’s work on a true premise for number (3).  I would make it: Nice people will expect their money back almost always.  Thus, a corrected (4): I should pay back the money.

This may not be perfect logic since I am a novice at the tools of true logic, but practically this works, and will keep you off of court shows.  People don’t lend out resources, unless it is a gift (as in a Christmas gift).  When someone (even a family member) offers a loan, then it means what the definition of loan is:  It must be paid back.  Otherwise, it would have been called a gift.  It is strange, that often, when a judge calls out a defendant for not paying back a loan, somehow the defendant tries to turn the definition of loan, into gift, just because they expect that family members should give gifts and not loans.  But the fact remains, that they took a loan, and a loan does not change into a gift after a loan was made.  Is that not logical?  Is it not also only basic respect for others?

Let me show another example of foolish (bad) decision making that I just witnessed.  Two young men (about 16 years old) found two boats on a dock that did not belong to them (how I know this will be explained).  They figured that since no one was really paying attention, and most people don’t mind other’s business these days, they would be able to take out the boats for a ride on the water.  They are taking a calculated risk:

(1) We are bored.

(2) We have found two boats.

(3) No one minds other’s business.

Therefore: (4) We can take these boats and cure our boredom.

The problem is ethical here, because the boats are not theirs, and they are counting on the fact that no one cares enough to chastize them for taking someone else’s personal property (especially since the owners are probably not there).  They have made a decision, but it is a bad one, because the level of risk is undeterminable. Besides the fact that risk of being caught basically implies that they are infringing on a social contract – “Do not steal other’s property” for your own benefit.

Well, they got caught.  A man in a boat on the other side of the dock yelled at them (this is how I know it was not theirs), saying, “Those aren’t your boats, so string them up and put them back!”  He yelled it really loud, and the two were embarrassed and put up the boats…temporarily.  I just looked, and after the other guy left, they took out the boats anyways.

I think they should look at their problem in a different way.

(1) We are bored.

(2) We have found two boats.

(3) The boats have owners.

Therefore: (4) We can find the boat owners and ask to use them (and cure their boredom).

They are missing essential relational steps when living in community with other people.  Not only that, but they are placing themselves in the risk of being picked up by police later for using property that isn’t theirs, and even further risk of crashing or sinking the boats that aren’t theirs, and then, having to pay back the owners for the loss of property.  Too many risks that could be mitigated by merely being relational and not feeling prideful and arrogant.

The scariest thing about the bad decisions of these young vigilantes, is that one day they may be given power over other people, and if they are not reformed, they will scorn good justice, and try to find shortcuts to their own pleasures, and see themselves as above others.  My worry is like that of the prophet of Isaiah, who said “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions.” Undisciplined generations lead to unjust societies full of possible dictators and much evil.  Though we are all prone to bad decisions, it is best to discipline and constantly seek to reform ourselves so that we make good decisions.

Two basic principles that I hold to are told by Christ himself as recorded by Luke, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  He was quoting from the Pentateuch (First five books of the Bible – Specifically to Deuteronomy).  The love of God and neighbor instills two principles into decision making that ensures we seek the most possible Good.

(1) We have accountability from God, and will be judged for harming others, making us seek ethical judgments based on the good love of God and not our own selfishness.

(2) We are outward focused, and seek to love others, recognizing their importance to God and to even our own existence.  We are in parity with even the highest and lowliest of people (according to human eyes).

So don’t be like those who scam family, or like those who assume that people will not care.  Know that you are with God always, and that our actions matter, and that we are to care for those around us as if we were looking out for our own interests.  If everyone perfectly lived up to these principles, good decisions would be rampant, and governments would be less necessary.  Police forces would have idle hands, and would eventually have to become gardeners.

I suppose it would look alot like Isaiah’s vision of God’s future reign as the perfect ruler of all:

And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.

I like the idea that war will one day disappear, and God’s power and good judgment will replace our imperfect constructs, giving humankind the possibility to live up to its full potential without death, or destruction.  But just because God isn’t physically judging over a perfect kingdom right now, does not mean that we cannot work towards the good society full of people making good decisions today.  We are free to stop assuming that we own the entire Earth personally, as if we are entitled to everything within it.  We are all very small, and we are responsible for doing good towards one another, and to God for the good and bad decisions we make.

Let me know if you have any similar thoughts or stories.

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