Part 1 in this three-part series on “What is Right?” mapped out seven different decision filters we can use when confronted with a choice. Those filters serve as tools in our mental decision kit. However, like most tools they produce the most effective results when applied by a skilled craftsman within the framework of a process. For example, it does little good to smoothly sand and finish pieces of wood before cutting and shaping the individual pieces into their final forms and assembling those pieces into the final product.
What process might we apply to making choices? The following three critical questions help us apply the seven decision filters (authoritative, aligned, aimed, available, attentive, acceptable, and appropriate) in a logical manner. Disclaimer: I do not intend for the following process framework to fit all situations or all seasons. For the purpose of this post we will focus on choices that fit under the umbrella of “What is the right thing to do?”
1. Is there an authoritative principle of natural law in play?
Natural laws apply to all peoples in all situations for all time. These natural laws are written on our hearts, and our own conscience acts as a witness; either condemning or defending the alignment of our behavior with those natural laws. We can squelch or cultivate our conscience but natural laws stand inviolable. Consequently, everything starts here. On a related side note, the whole concept of civil disobedience collapses as vacuous nonsense unless certain authoritative principles trump all else.
2. What prior commitment(s), if any, affect(s) my choice?
Commitments of belonging …Groups of people who have voluntarily chosen to align for a common purpose; whether they be countries, companies, clubs or communities (beginning with marriages and expanding outward), often create written and unwritten policies to govern the behavior of group members. Those policies describe “what is right” for inclusion in the group. As such, when I choose to join any group I essentially commit to conform my behavior to that group’s policies. Recent accusations that Todd Gurley, running back for the University of Georgia, may have signed his name to certain memorabilia items in exchange for compensation provides a great example of the interplay between these first two steps in the decision framework. Some argue that the NCAA’s policy prohibiting a player from financially capitalizing on their own image while doing the same for itself is not right. I happen to believe this argument has some merit; nonetheless, by voluntarily joining an organization aligned with the NCAA, Gurley effectively placed himself under the authoritative policies governing behavior in that organization. Consequently, if the NCAA determines his behavior violated their policy, Gurley may get barred from future competition for some period of time. Without speculating as to Gurley’s culpability or possible motivation, his situation reinforces the point that even when our behavior aligns with natural law, we may still find ourselves subjected to social ridicule, adverse financial damage, or, in extreme cases, risk of physical harm.
Commitments of action … One of my early mentors, Luther Boggs, made a statement which has stuck with me for decades. “A commitment is not a commitment, unless you are prepared to personally sacrifice to keep it.” Our lives are more productive and less stressful when we act with integrity and keep our commitments.
3. What choice most aligns with my life purpose and goals?
Some might argue that this question should come second, but I contend it rightfully falls here. Choosing what is right does not allow us to abrogate prior commitments merely because we define a new goal. For example, a husband or wife should not walk out on their family to chase a new dream. As highlighted in a previous post (here), a personal mission statement is a powerful and useful tool. Absent the guiding presence of a personal mission statement, you cannot really answer this question. You will especially struggle to determine your availability and decide what invitations to decline. So, if have not yet created a personal mission statement or captured written goals for major roles and responsibilities in your life, I encourage you to do so.
Once past those three decision gates we are beyond principles and priorities and into the arena of preference where demanding our own way is likely just selfishness and deference should typically hold sway. Into this space apply the decision filters of attentiveness to the needs of others, responding to the appropriateness of the situation and choosing to behave in a manner acceptable to the sensitivity of others.
Part three in this What is Right? series will discuss the Binary Decision Trap.