Mussar: Decisiveness

The middah, or character trait, we’re learning this week is Decisiveness (see http://rivertonmussarg.org). I’m posting this from Israel, which provides an intensive course on decisiveness at almost every turn!

 

Be always sure you are right, then go ahead. Davy Crockett

I remember this quote from an ancient Disney black-and-white TV series on the Tennessee frontiersman. It’s homespun but insightful, for, as Davy noted, decisiveness does entail two components. First, we have to determine what is right, what we believe, what we are willing to commit to. And then we have to act on it.

The prophet Elijah, in a Davy Crockett-like moment, confronted his fellow Israelites amidst their flirtation with idolatry: “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Once you have determined what is right, or who is right, follow that way! Later, when Elijah places his mantle over Elisha, designating him as his successor, the younger man responds, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and I will follow you.” Elijah says to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” (1 Kings 19:20). He seems to be saying, you know what you need to do, and it’s your responsibility, not mine, to start doing it.

The greatest impediment to ethical growth may not be ignorance, but immobility. We might have a sense of right, and a conviction about some excellent course of action, but fail to pursue it through indecisiveness, endlessly weighing the pros and cons, or the difficulties and complications and never getting around to doing the right thing. Modern life conspires against decisiveness. We are taught to avoid absolutes, to keep our options open, to be tolerant, inclusive, always a bit skeptical . . . and often immobilized. I wonder if that is why we seem to delay major life decisions longer and longer as the years go by. One of the provisions of the recent health care legislation allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance policies until the age of 26, if they are still in school or not yet employed. It’s probably a humane move, but it also reflects the indecisiveness of our age. We can’t make up our minds at 22 or 24, and need extended coverage to give us more time to decide what we’re going to do with our lives.

Decisiveness often requires choosing the bold step over the cautious one, and the mental discipline of not looking back once that step is taken. Yeshua reiterates Elijah’s call to decisiveness, but he is tougher than the old prophet, who gave Elisha time to bid farewell to his past life. A man once said to Yeshua, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Yeshua said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61-62). Decisiveness means knowing what is worth pursuing, and then going after it. It is willing to narrow the options in favor of the one option Messiah presents above all others: “Follow me.”

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