Use discipline, personal reform to combat bad decision-making

danielgriswold@gmail.comNovember 20, 2013 

I've watched a lot of courtroom dramas -- such as "Judge Judy" and "Judge Mathis." These shows feature people who have made bad decisions and a wise person who listens and is charged with making a good decision, neutralizing the bad.

This is an entertaining form of justice or balancing the scales. The drama comes from the fact that bad decisions harm relationships.

Many bad decisions revolve around 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 money as soon as the funds were available to her (in the form of returned tax money, or a slow and steady payment schedule based on income). While the good decision would be to live up to the contract and have a harmonious family, a bad decision is made to not repay what is owed.

Bad decision logic: 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 No. 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 to come about. In real life, nice people often do expect that their contracts will be honored, and thus, they expect their money to be paid back. So let's work on a true premise for No. 3. I would make it: Nice people expect their money back almost always. Thus, a corrected No. 4: I should pay back the money.

Here is a bad decision I once witnessed: Two young men, about 16 years old, found two boats at a dock that did not belong to them. They figured that since no one was really paying attention, they would be able to take the boats out 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 is watching; therefore, 4. We can take these boats and cure our boredom.

They've made a bad decision and can't expect people to remain passive when their property is stolen. The risk of being caught basically implies they are infringing on a social contract.

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!"

I think these two young men should have looked 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 boats' owners and ask to use them.

They missed essential relational steps that come with living in a community with other people. Not only that, they put themselves at risk of crashing or sinking boats that aren't theirs, or even getting arrested.

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 decision-making potentially leads to collections of unjust individuals and communities. From where do we think dictators arise? Though we are all prone to bad decisions, it is best to be disciplined and constantly seek to reform ourselves; and this is done best by the soul first.

Two basic principles I hold to are told by Christ himself, as recorded by the writer 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."

The love of God and neighbor instills two principles into decision-making that ensures we seek the most possible good, but also brings us closer to God.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

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