Have you ever pondered a decision so long that you became frustrated and simply gave up? When faced with a critical choice, it may be overwhelming and difficult to make that choice. At times, it can be tempting to make no choice. However, as famed theologian Harvey Cox once said, “Not to decide is to decide,” which was even more simply stated by Neil Peart when he proclaimed, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” Indecision has gripped everyone at some point. We may be afraid to decide out of fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Or, we may be afraid of what we will have to face as a result of our own action. But what if your decision making capability wasn’t fully formed at all or worse, completely non-existent? What if you were caught up in what I call a “decision vacuum,” unable to make any critical decisions when it was most important to do so?
The illustration below is reprinted from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth web site at http://www.umassd.edu/fycm/decisionmaking/process/. The graphic represents the steps that most well-adjusted, intelligent adults would follow in making an effective decision. I should underscore the word “effective” here, as simply making a decision does not make it a good one. Making choices without really understanding what we are choosing, or the consequences of that choice, is like walking around in the dark with a blindfold on. We will have trouble going in the right direction.Individuals who were either once a member of a high-control group such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses or were brought up by parents who made every decision for them or who found themselves in a relationship with a highly controlling individual, may find it difficult to follow the steps noted above. Why is this so? Because they may have become so accustomed to someone else making all of their decisions for them that they did not develop their own decision making authority. Thinking back to my time as a Jehovah’s Witness, I realize what it was I so missed in the years immediately after I left. I had become addicted to the security of not having to worry about what I should do with my time or my life in general for that matter. I became engulfed in an endless sea of meeting attendance, Watchtower publication study and many hours in the “field service,” trying to convert others to my mission, that I was too busy to think about much of anything. I simply followed the “guidance,” aka “spiritual food,” that was provided by the leaders of the Witness organization, and did not give much thought to the long term.
Let’s journey back to my senior year of high school, and look at the decision about what I should do right after high school. I will list the seven steps to effective decision making and show how my “Witness trained conscience” guided this decision:
- Identify The Decision: Easy, should I attend college after graduation or become a regular pioneer, spending at least 90 hours per month knocking on doors?
- Gather Information: There was my guidance counselor, who after reviewing my nearly perfect grade average, and incredibly articulate nature, indicated that I would have my choice of great schools. Then there was the Witness literature, which was constantly proclaiming the end of the world as we knew it to be “just around the corner,” so why pursue any worldly dreams like higher education?
- Identify Alternatives: Go to college and be found to be displeasing to Jehovah (God), or become a pioneer and gain his acceptance (maybe). Not much of a choice.
- Weight the evidence: According to the Watchtower, all the evidence pointed to God’s destruction of the wicked world at Armageddon “any day,” with a restored paradise earth for loyal Witnesses just beyond that. It was a sure thing.
- Choose among alternatives: Pursue higher education, possibly fall into worldly ways, get destroyed at Armageddon, OR pursue pioneering, do “great works,” gain life everlasting in paradise earth.
- Take action: Forego college and become a pioneer of course!
- Review your decision: Happily pray to God for his blessing for making the choice that his earthly organization had directed me to make!
Hopefully you see my point. I eventually left the Jehovah’s Witnesses four years after graduating from high school. I became disillusioned over what I had believed and in the end came to believe none of it was real. The problem was there was nothing to replace the systematic way of seeing the world that I had become so accustomed to. For many years I lived inside the decision vacuum. This inability to think for myself, with a mind that was so programmed to look at every decision the same way, made it nearly impossible to make an effective life decision outside of the framework established by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus, within a year after leaving the Witnesses, I made a decision to marry someone that most sane people would not have, and this relationship ended after a few short years, leaving me in financial and emotional ruin. It took me many years to be able to fill my head with the ideas that would ultimately lead to effective decision making. Trial and error, modeling others, higher education and finally talk therapy led to my developing my own mind, free of the influence of a religion and controlling individuals.
In fear of living in a decision vacuum, it may be tempting to stay put, living with someone or some thing that will tell us what to do, how to do it and when to do it. To me, that’s a horrible waste of a beautiful mind, a theft of something precious. Resolve to take back your mind and gain control over your choices and decisions today.