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Decision Making

Decisions and actions determine the quality of existence of every organism or institution. Practically speaking, one of the most important things we do as human beings is learn how to make decisions. A big part of that is learning how to handle the information that informs our decisions.

Wisdom contains this ability. Therefore, the reason Christian classical approaches to learning are so important is at least partly because they take the pursuit of wisdom and make it a practical matter by teaching students how to make decisions.

For example, a classical approach to a text does not begin with an analysis of its settings, motifs, themes, character arcs, and other things that kids don’t really understand (though, when these things are presented rightly, the students do care about them).

Rather, it will turn on more essential questions about the surface of a text, like, “Should Penelope have unwoven her tapestry every night?”

Since every story is an analogy, it’s very easy for the students to draw analogies to their own experiences from any story when it is approached this way. Testing and analytical teaching, on the other hand, place barriers between the child’s encounter with the story and his own innate pursuit of wisdom.

Having taught multiple generations of students to cut life up into its isolated elements, we are now a disintegrated, dissected culture, unable to find the means to weave a tapestry out of all of our disparate threads.

English: Students learning weaving Khaling, Bh...

English: Students learning weaving Khaling, bBhutan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As CiRCE has grown the need to communicate internally has helped me to see this more and more in our institutional life. My experience has taken me from working with a big seven (it was the 80’s) accounting firm, through a smallish family business, through youth ministry in a church, through multiple schools, and into a not-for-profit ministry that has had times where I’ve worked alone and with few people locally but many people around the country.

Everywhere I’ve worked, one obvious thing has stood out. Everything turns on decisions and actions. Wise decisions lead to prudent actions and that usually, though not always, leads to growth.

One of my biggest burdens is that everywhere I’ve worked people have been inclined to believe that analytical decision making is sufficient. While I’ve always been uneasy about this, I can easily understand why we are so inclined. It’s what we’re taught by everything except life.

Analysis is concerned with the stuff we can know (or at least seem to know). It makes (or this is what we want, any way) us feel like we have more control over a situation and its outcomes than is possible or even prudent. It blinds us to the fact that all our thinking is rooted in a fundamental ignorance that must be accepted before we can gain any wisdom.

Decision making always happens in a context, and a context is always changing. Consequently, every decision is tentative until it becomes a commitment.

One of the more obvious practical elements of decision-making, whether it be in the context of family, business, school, or personal relationships or activities, is that one thing a good decision needs is the best information that can be gathered. This isn’t enough, but it is necessary.

So one of the most important things we can do as leaders is to make sure the plumbing works. The decision is the moment when you turn the tap on the faucet. What comes out? Could the water get there?

Schools and families need to put sound systems in place that ensure that everybody who makes a decision gets the information he needs to make that decision well. One of the best ways an administrator or leader can ensure this is by noting the types of decision that each person in the organization is required to make and then to evaluate the effectiveness of those decisions.

Do the people making the decisions have all the information they need? Since that is not enough, leaders need to look at other things as well, but that’s a good starting point.

If they don’t have that information, why don’t they? Where is it? What kept it from reaching them? The leaders task is to ensure that the plumbing works. Any group can stink to high heaven when it doesn’t.

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