“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” – Proverbs 14:12
How do you make decisions? When you’re running out of time and you have to choose one option and only one option, how do you determine which one to take?
Some men select the easiest thing. In this way, they are like water flowing downhill — seeking the path of least resistance. And just as water erodes the hillside as it flows, the path of least resistance can wear away a man’s health and his sense. After all, it’s easier to spend an hour gaming than it is to spend an hour in the library or the gym.
Other men make their decisions based on utilitarianism — that is, what will create the greatest good for the greatest number of people? And these men are reliable — they will let nothing stop them from accomplishing the implementation of their task. Sometimes at a terrible cost.
Still others weigh the morality of the options — seeking to decide what is the right thing to do. Certainly, there is not always a moral dimension to every decision — boxers or briefs? — but taking the time to consider whether there is a moral aspect, and applying sound principles will enable a man to lead a life of integrity.
Observations from the field
If you are following presidential politics, you can see how various candidates approach the issues. The most craven of them always strive to find which way public opinion is going and to get in front so they appear to be leading. Some candidates seem — and perhaps are — quite principled and attempt to make the moral case for the policies they advocate. And then we have the “outsider” candidate, billionaire Donald Trump.
Trump is refreshing because he speaks without editing or second-guessing himself. This can be amusing as well, because he exhibits a form of courage that will not allow him to back down if a member of the press confronts him about something he said. Even more entertaining is to hear supposedly wise political observers and pundits unable to figure Mr.Trump out.
Here’s a theory
Experts from the left and the right throw labels like “narcissist,” but it’s clear they don’t know. This is the peril of armchair psychology. I submit to you that Donald Trump is a pragmatist above all else. He has shown no particular allegiance over time to one political party or philosophy so much has he has to building his own brand, his own empire. Note his willingness to pivot. The advantage of utilitarianism is you are always free to try the next thing even if it is 180 degrees from your position.
The nation’s business
I’m always on guard when I hear people say that government would work better if it were run like a business. To the extent they mean there would be more accountability and less corruption and waste, I agree somewhat. However, if you’ve spent your career in the marketplace, you know the people who make up the marketplace occupy every slot on the continuum. The unfortunate part of this is that less principled people often seem to claw their way to positions of power, becoming addicted to their positions and to the trappings that go with power.
Whether in business or politics, the mission shifts away from accomplishing the commercial or social good, to that of remaining in power. This change leads to making decisions on the basis of utilitarian calculus — doing whatever it takes.
I’m neither endorsing or speaking against Donald Trump — or any candidate at this point. I appreciate his directness of speech and I admire his backbone when people try to cow him.
At the same time, I think it’s funny that people say a man is incorruptible when he boasts of currying favor with politicians by donating to their campaigns. Similarly, when people say a wealthy man isn’t for sale — meaning others’ money would have no effect on him — I wonder how they think he came to be so wealthy if not from other people’s money. Perhaps Donald Trump is a man of genuine principle. I pray that he is. I winced when I read this, though.
A lesson in principled leadership
In the Old Testament book of Judges, we read about a man named Gideon. When we meet him, God disrupts his life as a fearful farmer, appearing to him and calling him a man of valor. Gideon says, in effect, “Who, me?” but God soon convinces Gideon that he has a divine purpose. From there, Gideon goes about destroying the idols that are at the heart of God’s displeasure, and that led to Israel’s persecution by the Midianites.
But this is all preamble to the mission to which God appointed Gideon. The army under Gideon’s command has assembled to make war on the camp of Midian. All appears ready when God tells Gideon he has too many soldiers. In a fascinating process, God reduces the 32,000 troops to a mere 300. Spoiler alert: God routs the Midianites with Gideon’s 300. It’s still worth reading for yourself.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is to point out the difference between a pragmatic approach to warfare and the principled one. A pragmatic general would want the greatest number of soldiers fighting. By contrast, God instructed Gideon, and by following God’s guidance, God won a decisive victory – far better than the pragmatic approach.
Words from another man of valor
I had the privilege recently of meeting Mr. Bob Patterson, one of 79 living recipients of the Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery in battle during the Vietnam War. You can read his award citation here.
I told him what we talk about here, and I asked him what words he would have for you. He said he always told his men that the most important thing they possessed was their integrity. “That’s the one thing you, and only you, can control,” he said. And he added that it’s easy to destroy it and “once you lose it, it’s gone.”
I can’t add anything to that.