Tag Archives: Decision-making

Learning to say NO – a life skill from logic

1 Oct

It was one of those sleepless nights this past week.  During the wakeful period, my subconscious memory united some disparate past experiences into one theme.

The prompt for this sorting and configuring of earlier ‘histories’ in my life must have been the previous day’s unacceptable 7th-grade boys classroom behaviors.  I had been really bothered because 3 boys continue to distract our French class, preventing me from teaching the others.

On my drive home, I spent time thinking and formulating an articulate reason to communicate to these boys about WHY this pattern ‘cannot continue’.

Once I had my argument in place, I knew I would find it far easier for the tête-à-tête talks I planned the next day.  The foundation and strength to say NO, you cannot do this to me or to my class!” rested on having a sound reason.

All that was conscious.  But in the dark quiet of the night, God brought to mind 4 different segments of my past life where I failed to say ‘NO’:

  • in overeating and binging on M&Ms and cookies for 9 years of my life
  • engaging in sex before marriage
  • disciplining a son who continually tested the limits
  • setting guidelines of propriety for a teenage son and his girlfriend at our house

It seems to me that the reason WHY I couldn’t draw a line and say NO in each of these scenarios is due to the lack of childhood training in decision making.  That is –  practice in searching for and settling on strong reasons to hold fast to a position or value.  A belief or decision is pretty weak and indefensible even to yourself if you don’t know ‘your why’.

I AM going to point my finger at my parents and my upbringing in the area of how to make decisions, important moral ones, and the everyday kind.

My mom came late to a true faith in Jesus when I was 16 or so.  Neither she nor my dad taught me (whether from God’s moral perspective or a secular perspective) just HOW to think about values and dilemmas, HOW to arrive at a REASON-based decision.

In short, I did NOT learn how to say ‘No’.

I did NOT learn the rule ‘Always be ready to give a reason for your decision and view.’

Training in logic, that is in language-based THINKING, does furnish the practitioner with specific skills, invaluable for life.

When I taught at a classical Christian school in Yorktown, Virginia, I introduced logic to 7th and 8th graders.  It was I who learned the most!  I just wish that I had been gifted with that kind of mental training at their young age.

So for all you like me, who did not receive this early instruction, all you need to know is the format of a basic syllogism.

It works like this:

The 3rd proposition (call it a sentence for simplicity’s sake) IS the conclusion of a syllogism.  We find that in culture, people spout mostly conclusions – naked! – without the rest of the preceding syllogism.

For example:

  • Criticizing my views is intolerant
  • Guns are our biggest problem
  • Americans eat poorly.
  • Most lawyers are greedy

What SHOULD precede each of these conclusions or propositions are 2 logically ordered propositions or reasons that connect, one to the other, leading TO the conclusion. In other words, we need to have reasons for what we do or don’t do!  And the reasons have to lead properly to the conclusion.

When I struggled with binging in earlier years, I can distinctly remember my irrational line of thinking:

I’m bored studying.  I’ll go buy a quarter pound of M&Ms at the sweet shop. Why shouldn’t I do something pleasant?.…..and then as I began to eat them, I can’t think of any compelling reason NOT to finish the entire amount.…and I would.  And feel sick and disgusted.

Had I been conditioned to point to a reason for my decisions, I’m assuming that I could have come up something compelling and rational that at least would have provided a few minutes to ponder outcomes.

For 9 years I accepted this irrational thinking, never challenging my beliefs.  Control mechanisms like diets were my only tool.  They didn’t work.

The bulimia continued until God in His providence enabled Mike and me to conceive our first child.  All of a sudden I DID have an irrefutable reason to stop the binging and purging.  Our baby’s health!

A syllogism might have looked like this, had I been equipped with this particular reasoning tool.

Premise 1:  I should do all that is in my power to eat healthy in order to help my growing baby.

Premise 2: Binging on junk food and then throwing up is not a healthy eating practice.

Conclusion: Therefore, I should avoid this harmful pattern

Although I didn’t go on to practice such reasoning in other areas of my life, God in His mercy DID remove the desire to binge after Graham was born.  That was pure grace.  And I recall this gift and thank Him frequently.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to improving our thinking and reasoning skills. Now that I SEE the practiced pattern of NOT being able to say no for lack of a compelling, articulated reason, I have committed myself, when boundary/decision situations arise, to this NEW practice of stop, consider, articulate a strong reason for a necessary NO.

If you have children still at home or can influence grandkids, then think about helping them acquire this decision-making tool.  Maybe you think it’s an intuitive response or routine.  For some of us, at least me, it isn’t.  I’m still a learner.

 

 

But I want all of them!

6 Jul

can't have your cake Having recently devoured and imbibed the philosophy of minimalism, I picked up another book along the same lines to garner new tips for eliminating stuff.  But Joshua Beck’s recent book, The More of Less….surprised me. Besides new ways of thinking about why we spend money,  I came away with the surprising goal of reducing our purchases in order to create a travel fund.

So here I am, a month out from reading Beck’s book. After some truthful examination of our budget, the only category that has actual flab and can afford trimming is the groceries ‘pot’.  From that line item we fund food for the two of us and our pair of cats, cleaning supplies, wine, and vitamins.

Like with any new project, the initial energy released by setting this goal lasted about two weeks.  Then came the ‘surprising’ realization that I had been operating at cross purposes. How so?  Apparently I hold 3 values equally and that won’t work if I want to squeeze money from groceries.  I EQUALLY want:

  1. to build up a travel fund
  2. to eat organic meats
  3. to buy high-quality vitamins

Brick wall moment!  I can’t have numbers 2 & 3 AND pare down groceries to save for trips. So the past few days I’ve wrestled with the values that support numbers 2 & 3.  Forced to prioritize what I consider important has been good exercise.

As I wrestled with rank-ordering priorities I reviewed some previous decisions that had brought us to this point.  A little background:

We switched to buying and preparing organic meats and eggs after I saw the documentary Food, Inc  Since that film, antipathy against the industrialization of food sourcing has set in. Philosophical reasoning primarily fueled this shift and it was then easy to add the health benefits of organic foods to shore up the argument.  My husband joined me in abandoning all non-organic meats and meat products.

Aligning our food prep around these new principles has posed no additional effort.  I enjoy cooking and we eat out rarely.  Once a year we select a high-end, farm-to-table type restaurant for our anniversary.  Yet right from the outset our commitment to organic meat wasn’t monolithic. When on the road to visit family and friends, we continued to eat in casual chain restaurants.  These occasions together with being guests in others’ homes were times of non-organic dining.

So given that I have compromised somewhat since my initial gung-ho ‘no more industrial meats for us!’ cry, maybe we could go back to eating non-organic foods.

What about the vitamins?  We took grocery store/pharmacy-brand vitamins for years, resulting in (anecdotally) very few colds or at worst, quick recoveries. But to ‘afford the organic meats’ I opted to eliminate them, reasoning that healthier meats would provide what vitamins offered.  As our stock of supplements dwindled, winter arrived and we both succumbed to some ‘health problems’.  I suffered my longest bad cold ever and my husband fell ill with heart palpitations caused by multiple factors, kicked off by a cold. Anxiety connected with the erratic heartbeats caused literal sleep-less nights, ‘les nuits blanches’ as the French call them – white nights.  But God worked a healing after 3 months of numerous doctors’ visits, testing and much prayer and Mike’s sleep patterns readjusted.

We resumed vitamins, based on some advice from a nurse who also had suffered heart palpitations.  She directed us to higher quality supplement companies.  What do you know, the better the vitamins, the pricier they are!

So here I am, having to make a choice between the two priorities that cannot coexist together with my new desire to reduce grocery spending and make room for a travel fund. I won’t go into why that is important; suffice it to say that whether the savings allows us to vacation well or simply offers us flexibility in future jobs, this reasoning process has been useful.

Critically THINKING through what I want and the labor to explain logically my thought process has clarified my mind.  I haven’t used logic explicitly, but I have identified my pre-suppositions and values that have been leading me to where I am mid-summer.

Finally, let me point out that I am very much like everyone else in the human race:  when we decide that we want something, even if it’s an irrational outcome, we seek to shore up that decision with rational arguments.  So here’s my ace in the hole:

Matthew 15:11 – It is not what goes into the mouth that makes a person unclean. It is what comes out of the mouth that makes a person unclean.

No, I don’t like supporting big industry meat.  Yes, I prefer the idea of encouraging small quality farms that are committed to healthy and humane raising and slaughtering practices.  But I want a travel fund more!

Follow reason, not the heart in making a decision

9 Dec

My husband used to be in sales  – the kind whose products were invisible and long term.  Life insurance, college accounts, emergency savings, although worthy goals, couldn’t hold a candle to the allure of a shiny new car.  What he learned was that despite a couple’s acquiescence to the need for financial protection, that pure desire for a new car exerted a stronger pull.

new car

The husband would be the one to enumerate all the reasons why the family needed this new van.  Reality taught my husband the truth of the adage: People buy emotionally and justify their purchase rationally. 

My daughter-in-law and her husband face a decision, like all parents, of how to educate their oldest child.  Over the past two years, Anne has considered home-schooling with much turmoil.  She has felt her heart pulled toward this paradigm for various reasons, but last year she enrolled our grandson in pre-school.  At the time, it was the right decision.  The family moved over the summer and they found a 4-year old preschool in their new city.  But the tug to homeschool has grown stronger.

Decision-making is challenging for all of us.   It doesn’t help that in today’s ‘Disney-fied’ world we are counseled to ‘follow our heart’!

Christians should know that according to God, our hearts cannot be trusted.  Only as these hearts are being renewed by the Holy Spirit and informed by a Bible-saturated mind that considers, weighs and evaluates all things can they be trusted.

The other challenge to wading through options is the oppression of the majority.  I’m surprised, yet I shouldn’t be, when I encounter people  who seem to assume that if a majority of people in their country think XYZ, then it must be true.  Where is THAT assumption grounded on?

All Logical Joes and Janes recognize that view as a bald-faced fallacy – Argumentum Ad Populum.  The holders of this view automatically assume minority dissenters must be wrong.

So back to Anne and her recent decision process to switch to homeschooling.  My husband and I have long thought that this couple are well-suited to homeschool.  Furthermore, we have confidence in parents’ ability to equip and guide their children just as well, if not better, than outsourced educational institutions.

As someone who supports critical thinking, I am encouraging Anne to think through her reasons FOR this change.  If the benefits to her and to their children outweigh other options, then she should choose home-schooling.  Her husband, our son, absolutely supports his wife in whichever educational choice she opts for.  She is a full-time mom to their two kids and is the one whose day-to-day responsibilities center on raising the family.

As we talked about this over Thanksgiving Anne gave vent to the real pressure from the world, seeped in ‘majority knows best’ thinking.  But trying to please extended family or current pre-school teachers or friends who evince surprise and trot out, “But what about the social aspect N would be missing?” should carry no weight against researched reasons that matter to the couple.

What about the heart?

Follow your heart

When I mentioned to Anne that Christians are counseled NOT to let feelings and emotions guide our decisions, she balked a bit.  I know that what grounds her reaction is that she truly feels that God has given her the desire to homeschool.  And I don’t discount that.  Maybe we’re using different words.  I might say about a decision: “I don’t feel any check from the Holy Spirit,” thereby giving weight to the ‘affective’ aspect of my choice.

A more effective final check might be for Anne to review the purpose they see for educating their children.  Then they can evaluate if homeschooling is the correct and best course to meet that goal all the while guided by their values.  Decision-making MUST start with the end in sight and progress backwards.  I offer that when Anne articulates their vision for their children as young adults and then looks at the options for their family, she can feel peace about her decision.

Logical Gal asks: Do you follow your heart? Do you trust your instincts?

10 Jan

What do you think?  do you agree with the premise advanced above?

Or how about this one:

My ‘gut instinct’ tells me to ask both authors of these truisms, “How do you know intuition or your heart won’t deceive you?”

I haven’t checked other world religions, but Christianity has us humans pegged! The prophet Jeremiah thundered, ”

Do you think Jeremiah trusted his heart?

Actually we have been given brains in order to think, to reason, to assess and to calculate.  Certainly we are to take our feelings into account.  But our mind should rule our feelings.

Acquiring some tools such as……

  • decision-making
  • making distinctions
  • techniques for defining terms
  • and the building blocks of a sound argument…….

can empower us and strengthen our confidence in our mind.

You’ve heard of arranged marriages, 2 strangers who start to correspond and as they get to know each other, they come to love each other.

This technique that builds positive feelings also works with inanimate objects. For example, I’ve experienced the phenomenon of going from feeling neutral about a subject to actually liking it JUST because I acquired knowledge about the topic.  The more one knows about something, the more the feelings fall into line.  We CAN influence our feelings by our acquired knowledge.

As a Christian, I have experienced this in my relationship with God.  How does one ‘love’ God? He’s invisible, immaterial and different from us.  What I’ve found is the more I learn about Him, the more my affections grow.

So, if you’re making some resolutions, this 2nd week of January, resolve NOT to oppose heart and mind, but to make your mind the master of your feelings.  Then you can start to trust your feelings more, but only if they are supporting reality, aka TRUTH.

And don’t fall for that old canard that juxtaposes supposed head knowledge against heart knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge and feelings are feelings.  Keep that distinction!

Question: What do you think about the possibility that when someone says,

  • I just followed my heart

They actually meant:

  • I just did what I actually WANTED to do, without considering whether is was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’

Logical Gal and Reasoning like a Doctor

10 Oct

One of our cats died this week:

What a painful decision it is to choose to euthanize an animal when her quality of life is rapidly going down hill.  For years this cat had suffered from a chronic malady.  We struggled with her as we tried different remedies suggested by the vet.  But in the end, there was nothing more we could do.  At the ripe old age of 17 1/2 her organs were too weak to respond to medicine.

As we were chatting awkwardly with the vet who was getting to administer that final drug, I realized that the trial and error solutions that he and previous professionals had suggested were examples of abductive reasoning.

In language-based logic, there are 3 ways of reasoning: deductive, inductive and abductive.

Deductive reasoning is when you go from 2 known truths to a new piece of information.

All cats are curious

Leia is a cat

Therefore, Leia is curious

If the first two premises are true in a correctly formed syllogism (called ‘valid’ ) , then it follows that the conclusion must be true.  The conclusion is, in effect, GUARANTEED to be true. 

Inductive reasoning is more probabilistic.  The conclusion is at best LIKELY to be true.

The hurricane is moving in a northeasterly direction at the rate of 15 miles per hour.

Therefore, if it continues at that same rate and heading, it will probably reach our city by tomorrow night. 

Now to the thought process used by doctors, scientists and detectives.

Abductive reasoning is when you gather evidence and draw the best and most ‘reasonable’ (i.e. based on reasons) conclusion!  Many people rely on this kind of decision-making.  So much of life is uncertain.  But we gather the facts as best we can and we propose a solution or a conclusion. It’s trial and error.  Many of the decisions we take MUST rely on abductive reasoning.  I know this is frustrating to Americans who crave and are almost addicted to having certainty.

It is important, therefore, that you trust the character and procedures of the one who is reasoning this way.  Our cat did die, but all the vets involved in her life worked diligently and with care to provide the best treatments.  We are grateful to them and to God who guided us in that final decision as her owners.