I’ve been reading an excellent book on management—The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M. R. Covey. Trust, the book’s sub-title claims, is “the one thing that changes everything,” the key to success and effectiveness in every organization and relationship. The book lists thirteen behaviors that have been proven to build trust, including Behavior #8: “Confront Reality,” which sheds a lot of light on one of the traits emphasized in the Jewish discipline of Mussar or character development. This is the trait of decisiveness.
The opposite of “Confront Reality” is “Avoid Reality,” and indecision (the opposite of decisiveness) is often a way to do just that.
We can insert our heads comfortably into the sand and ignore whatever threats and challenges may be swirling around us, or worse, ignore the reality of our own miserable condition. Thus, Yeshua chastised some believers in Laodicea: “You keep saying, ‘I am rich, I have gotten rich, I don’t need a thing!’ You don’t know that you are the one who is wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked!” (Rev. 3:17). And Rav Shaul gave believers in Corinth a similar warning: “Therefore let anyone who thinks he is standing up be careful not to fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12). I’ll come back to these Corinthians in a moment.
On the other hand, we might refrain from sticking our heads in the sand, and be well aware of the problem, but still frozen in indecision because we don’t believe we can do anything about it. We might face the reality that we have a big problem, but dodge the reality that our decisions can make a difference.
The Speed of Trust provides a great quote from Admiral James Stockdale, who was a POW for eight years in Vietnam, which points the way past both of these forms of Avoid Reality.
You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Decisiveness confronts the facts, even if they’re brutal, and chooses a way to respond, confident that God will see it through. And so Rav Shaul wrapped up his exhortation to the believers in Corinth:
No temptation has seized you beyond what people normally experience, and God can be trusted not to allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear. On the contrary, along with the temptation he will also provide the way out, so that you will be able to endure. (1 Cor. 10:13)
If we try to ignore the test, or if we face the test without the God factor, we freeze up in indecision. If you’d like to try an exercise in mussar, think about a decision that you are avoiding, either by ignoring the problem or by ignoring the fact that God will provide a way out of the problem. If you find any such indecision in your life, perhaps today is the day to make a choice. Sometimes choices are tough, but when we’re confident in God’s faithfulness, we make the decisions that we have to make if we’re going to find the way out.
All Scripture references are from the Complete Jewish Bible. This blog also appears at http://www.riveronmussar.org.