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Way #38: Responsible Decisions

Way #38: Responsible Decisions

Every conscious moment is another decision. The most important decision is "What am I living for?"

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Some people think that decisions are made every once in a while, when a major issue comes up. But really all of life – every conscious moment – is another decision. From the instant we wake up, we begin to decide: What will I eat for breakfast? How will I greet my boss today? Even if we yawn, turn over and go back to sleep – that's also a decision.

The cumulative impact of decisions, even though each is individually small, is what determines the overall quality of life. Way #38 is Aino sam'eyach behora'ah – which idiomatically means "don't take decisions lightly."

Of course, different decisions have different impacts. If you don't visit Disneyland, you miss out on Mickey Mouse. But if you don't acquire wisdom for a successful marriage, it can have tragic consequences.

For living, be serious. Ask yourself: What am I going to do today? This week? This year? What am I doing with my life? What are the possibilities? What can a human being achieve?

Living is Decision-Making

Consider the consequences of not knowing the real purpose of life.

Anyone who says there are no answers to serious philosophical questions has probably not asked the right questions to the right people. Realize there are consequences of not investigating these issues.

We have to research these questions and not give flippant answers:

  • How should I honor my parents?
  • How will I maintain honesty in business?
  • How will I care for humanity?
  • Does God exist?
  • Do I have free will?
  • Is there an afterlife?

Many people make life-and-death decisions without thinking. If a decision is uncomfortable, we often brush the whole issue off and put it out of our mind. We might not question a doctor out of fear of offending him. Or we may choose a group of friends based on frivolous grounds, without thinking through the consequences. Beware of this trap.

Take time to introspect. Clarify your important decisions. On what basis did you arrive at these conclusions? You may be surprised at how carelessly you've made some decisions that have a dramatic impact on your life.

Take Decisions Seriously

Figuring out what to do with your life is no less serious than the question of whether or not to have open-heart surgery. Would you decide on surgery by flipping a coin? Of course not! So don't make important decisions (or express opinions) on subjects you haven't thought through.

Make decisions with a sense of responsibility. When tackling any issue, research it thoroughly. Get all the facts.

Whenever confronted by a decision, relax. Don't feel pressured into deciding at that moment. It's okay to take the time to work out an answer.

Take proper precautions in decision making. Consider the various options and potential consequences. Should I buy that house? Marry that person? Because if you make decisions without proper precautions, you're bound to make costly mistakes in life.

Part of the difficulty is that many decisions do not have immediate consequences, or have consequences that we cannot perceive. When making a major decision, check that you've judged the long-term consequences no less than the short-term ones. Speak out the potential consequences of your decision with other people, who may be aware of factors you've never considered.

Similarly, when helping others, be aware of the fine line between teaching someone, and making decisions for them. If someone asks for advice, don't be so quick to dictate directives, unless you're sure of what you're talking about. Imposing your opinion is an artificial solution – it won't stick, and eventually the other person will grow to resent it.

Phony Decision Making

There is a favorite American pastime called "Monday morning quarterback." This is the hindsight that football fans engage in, second-guessing how the coach or the quarterback should have used better strategy. Everyone has a brilliant opinion… about other people's decisions!

But "Monday morning quarterbacking" is hardly confined to football. We like to "play" decision making in areas like: "If I was president of the United States," or "If I was the CEO," or "If I was God." Be careful. Judging other's errors gives us a false sense of our own wisdom. But there's a good chance we'd have made the same mistakes.

Learn to Say, "I Don't Know"

Modern society equates knowledge with importance. Therefore we sometimes fall into the trap of pretending to know – because we're too embarrassed to admit we don't.

Human beings make mistakes. The biggest mistake is to decide that you're not going to change your mind. If you make a mistake and are too embarrassed to correct it, then you're making a second mistake.

In discussions with other people, train yourself to say, "I don't know." Even when you're sure, say, "It seems to me..." Otherwise, once you're committed to a certain point of view, you may be too embarrassed to back out – leaving you stuck defending a position you no longer believe in.

Actually, saying "I don't know" is no reason to be embarrassed. Being honest about your limitations helps clarify the gaps in your knowledge. Plus you don't mislead others, and they'll actually come to respect you more because of your honestly.

Few people will admit they don't know. Ask someone to define what is a good person, how to be happy, or what is the purpose of life, and it's unlikely he'll admit that he never thought about it!

Similarly, it's hard to admit if we've never considered whether there's a God, and whether He spoke at Mount Sinai. Or to admit that when it comes to free will, we've been using it and we don't know what it's all about.

Be flexible in your decision-making. Be open to someone bringing in another piece of evidence, and be willing to change based on new information. Go to others who know more. Respect their advice. Don't play games with your life.

Why is "Responsible Decisions" a Way tTo Wisdom?

  • Living means growing. If you don't make decisions, you won't grow.
  • The most important decision to make is: "What am I living for?"
  • Making decisions will make your life real.
  • The more informed you are, the better your decisions will be. Don't make any decision you're not qualified to make.
  • Evaluate fairly, not based on prejudices. Be a judge, not a lawyer.
  • To live rationally and meaningfully, be willing to admit when you don't know.
  • Only you determine your life path. Anytime you want to change, it's up to you.

Published: January 9, 2000

Article 38 of 50 in the series 48 Ways


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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anonymous, May 2, 2011 5:05 AM

loved this article! there is no one in the world who could say that this doesn't apply to their life because everyone is constantly making decisions be it subconsciously or not. either way our decisions speak volumes about who we are. by thinking through every impasse you encounter, you end up being content with what your decisions say about you, unafraid to share them with the world. thanks again, this defiantly helped open my mind to the decisions i make every moment of my life.

(5) Leah, October 27, 2009 3:55 PM

The right decision

Thirty nine weeks after the passing of Yisorel Noach Ben Yitzchak Mattisyahu, he continues to teach. I made a decision to learn the 48 ways, one per week, in his meit, and I am thankful. It was the right decision as I never imagined so much positive change could come about becuse of one choice. May all the choices of Khal Yisorel be for the good.

(4) Deena, November 11, 2008 9:42 PM

When do you have enough knowledge to make a decision?

This is a great article but the thing is that we never really know what our decisions are going to lead to. We need to be conscious of our decisions and think them through but we also need to realize that we don't really know what the outcome will be. I have a friend who worried about certain things regarding her decision to marry a certain guy. In the end she chose to and she's really happy. But interestingly, she says, that those things she worried about were totally unfounded. And as my wise aunt always says, "We worry about the wrong things." She should know, having had something extremely tragic happen in her life, something she never would have dreamed of, probably while she was worrying about a million other things.

(3) Temima, May 27, 2008 12:18 PM

so beautiful! what an amazing torah

which we can really apply to life!
how lucky we are to learn how to change and grow!

(2) Nasir, May 5, 2004 12:00 AM

great words for motivation

It is quite exciting to find such an interesting words in this domain.
Thanks for this wonderul job.

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