“What are your fears and what are your hopes?
What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make?”
– Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
This week an old rule that required Puerto Rico to be served only by U.S. ships was temporarily set aside in favor of getting aid to the Puerto Rican people, who are in dire need after the hurricane devastated their island. The lifting of the old rule is a good example of something I mentioned in last week’s post: When it comes to decision-making, we often ask ourselves what carries the greater weight in a particular circumstance: rules or the human/life need. Rules are color-by-number; human/life need is interpretative. Both rules and human/life needs are valid when it comes to making decisions, and sometimes rules are the human/life need of the moment. But it’s important to note what rules/laws can and cannot do.
• Rules cannot have mercy.
• Rules do not take circumstances into consideration.
• Rules cannot make exceptions.
• Rules cannot offer grace.
Because rules don’t care. They can’t. They are impersonal.
Forgiveness, mercy, consideration, exceptions, and grace require a human heart. An open heart. An interpretive heart that asks, what does the situation need? What is it that I might not be seeing or hearing? How can I be generous, grateful, and gracious to myself and to others?
Of course, some people don’t ask those questions but instead hold rules with an iron grip. That, as I see it, is what liberals on the far left and conservatives on the far right have in common. Both extremes tend to paint by number. Closer to the center, whether skewing left or right, we may find life messier, less certain, and more thought-provoking, but the near-center position can also be far more gracious and generous. From closer to center, we can be interpretive and consider what might best bring wholeness and healing, dignity and hope, those qualities that are at the heart of Love Incarnate, Love in the flesh – in other words, God in Jesus, now in us.
At both extremes, left and right, decision-making is often done in an effort to push back, fight against, or run away from whatever doesn’t fit the extreme viewpoint. While we sometimes have to approach our options that way, most decisions are best made not in the spirit of escaping what we don’t want but embracing what we do – leaning forward, fighting for, or running toward what’s desirable. Of course, that means we need to clarify in our own hearts what we consider to be desirable – what’s good, better, and best.
In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, discussing end-of-life issues, poses four questions that I think apply to all our tough decisions – and maybe even to the ones that aren’t so tough. Answered honestly, they pinpoint exactly what is important to us. Gawande asks, “What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”
In other words, what will you run toward?
I suspect that most of us come to decision-making heavily influenced by taken-for-granted shoulds: I should choose what’s expected of me. I should choose what the experts advise. I should choose what’s approved by colleagues, mentors, friends, or family. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t seek and consider advice. But notice Gawande’s four questions. They’re questions that only we as individuals can answer.
Writer William Kenower said, “Nothing is more unique to me than my curiosity and imagination. I am never more myself than when I ask, ‘What interests me most?’ Only I know the answer.” In the same way, only you know the answers to Gawande’s questions. Only you know what you truly believe. And what you believe is what you’ve chosen to believe – which is the topic of next week’s post.
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Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy pexels.com and morguefile.com.