Making Decisions

Sometimes, clients will come to me to help make “an important decision.”

Over the years, I’ve discovered and developed a protocol for making decisions, that seems to benefits folks.1 Often, their issue is a relationship matter, as many counseling issues are relationship-oriented. However, what I offer here is a structure for many other issues as well – Job or employment issues, car buying decisions, vacation choices, or bathroom paint colors.

Making a Decision – Three distinct parts

Part One – Research

This first part is time spent gathering data. The sources can include one’s own experience, advice from friends, online advice, libraries, books, podcasts, workshops, counseling, spiritual resources, relatives, and exes – the list can be extensive. There’s your native knowledge, wisdom, and even your imagination and dreams—the more critical the decision, the more comprehensive the research. Even the opinions of contrarians or even ‘enemies’ can be helpful.

But there’s a danger that when you are in the research phase, you’re also trying to decide. As much as possible, keep research separate from actually deciding – or you’ll be tempted to go crazy with the process.

Part Two – Making The Decision

When you know you have gathered sufficient data, then it’s TIME TO DECIDE.  Setting a specific time for the Decision (like ‘tomorrow night’ or ‘this weekend’) may be helpful.  The actual decision-making may take only fifteen seconds, or ten minutes, or a weekend, or….  You decide a time to decide. “Now I am ready.”

This may not be easy if being decisive isn’t your strong suit. But it’s important not to sabotage the process here – dare do decide to decide anyway. Even if it takes one of your wiser children to say ITTDD (it’s time to decide, dammit!)

“Coin Toss Divination” – Ratification

Now can be a good time to do what I call “ratifying decision you make.”  Somewhere along the line, I discovered “coin-toss divination.”  This is not your usual binary ‘let the coin decide for me’ exercise.  That would be unworthy after all the effort you’ve already put into this.2

What you want here is to ‘ratify’ your decision, to check that what you’ve now consciously decided also fits in accord with your subconscious mind, or your deeper (or better) self.3

Here’s how it goes. You’re going to flip a coin.4 You can also do this in your imagination so the imaginary coin is caught on the back of your other hand. Now, the moment it lands, uncover it, and in the first fifth of a second – (that is, before you have time to think), direct your inner attention to whether you are pleased or disappointed (yes or no). That’s your subconscious mind ratifying or disagreeing with your initial decision. And you will know your actual best decision in that first fifth of a second. I’ve never known that to fail me. Your decision has been accomplished.

Part Three – Committing to Your Decision

Once (all of yourself ) has decided (#2), you now consciously commit to the decision – No more second thoughts, doubts, or second-guessing.  And you can be trusted by others – which is a matter of high respect. It’s been long said “A man’s word is his honor.” (Translate that to it fits across the greater board.)

You are fully ready to GO for it.

Pay Attention

Footnotes

1. This isn’t originally my design, though I’ve forgotten where it came from as I’ve used it over the years.

2  This can be useful when you ‘just can’t decide,’ and it’s not exactly a super important decision, like whether to order cherry or apple pie from the menu.

3  This is similar to a pattern I’ve learned from my Native American friends about tribal decision-making. The tribe’s men gather in Council to make decisions for the People (tribe). Then, the decision is given to the women of the tribe to ‘ratify’ their work. If the women don’t ratify the decision, it’s sent back to the men in Council or a given that the women are correct (I’m not sure of the finer details of their pattern).

4  These days, some folks don’t carry any coins.  More often, you’ve got a plastic credit card – so flip it up and let it fall on the table or floor, and see which side is ‘up’ (yes or no).

Jacob’s Wound / God’s Wounding

Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter

March 2024 Newsletter – Volume 24, No 4 (my #209)

Jacob’s Wound / God’s Wounding

One of my favorite counseling stories from the Old Testament is the account of Jacob wrestling with God “by the ford of the river Jabbok.” (Book of Genesis, Chapter 32:22-32). The larger account is full of metaphorical elements which can be of use in counseling sessions. But here, I want to focus on only one.

“Then someone (God/angel/man) wrestled with him until daybreak, who seeing he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him.” v26   

“That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh sinew which is at the hip socket: because he had struck Jacob at the hip socket on the thigh sinew. v32 1

Then, shortly after my love affair with this story began, someone commented, “Everyone in the Old Testament who contends with God gets wounded.”  Moses had a speech defect.  Joseph had the jealousy of his brothers, and David couldn’t resist Bathsheba.2  The commentator offered a lengthy list – which I wish I now had in hand.

But in my view of the world (spiritual and psychological), many can rarely avoid the necessity of ‘wrestling with God.’  So often, we make it into either a moral or legal issue – and the wound is easily construed as punishment. The old term for a prison is “penitentiary.”

A Fault?

Was God punishing Jacob by wounding him?  It would be easy in our moral and legal world to answer Yes. But in the spiritual world, not necessarily.  Back to the Genesis account:  “…Seeing that he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket… “v 26. “…Since you have shown your strength against God and men, and have prevailed.” v 30.  These are not words of fault – but more a mark of masterful accomplishment. As if Jacob won “prevailed” – and God left him with a specific physical marking. Strange the ways of God!  And Jacob was warmly welcomed instead of killed by his brother Esau.

Wounds & Scars

In the secular realm, wounds and scars are easily considered impediments, in a sense impeding life flow, or at least worldly success. Jacob limped away. A wounded soldier will probably be limited or incapable of continuing full duty.

There’s an old spiritual reality or truth that from our wounds come healing gifts for others. Our wounds and scars become sources of blessing for the world. (The semantic energy of blessing seems to favor something moving outward from ourselves toward an other or others.

In my own profession, there’s a “Silver Rule of therapy”- which asserts that a therapist can take a client (or patient) only as far as they have proceeded in their own therapeutic (life) journey.  (Personally, I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news, but I’ve witnessed it both ways a number of times, including myself.)

Many come to work with me carrying wounds and scars – things have gone “wrong”, don’t work anymore, life has been ‘crossed’. We can judge these circumstances in terms of good and bad. But they seem from a spiritual perspective as “ways” of God to share the deeper mysteries of who (he) is.

My therapist trainer years ago told of a couple who came to her, claiming (bragging) that they never fought. She responded that she’d have to charge them double, for the extra amount of work they would need.

Let me take a side step into another realm – clerical celibacy.  I recall, some years ago, a conversation about the matter with a local Catholic priest. He explained that his celibacy was a charism, a spiritual gift, or extraordinary power given by the Holy Spirit. From that I began to view it not as a psychological matter, but a spiritual gift. Psychologically, it’s a wounding – a denial of a natural and desirable (even ecstatic) human experience. And yet it’s for the sake of the (higher) healing gifts of men and women under the Church’s  “Holy Orders.” Needless to say, the aberration of this understanding in the Church alone has led to incalculable abuse and suffering, especially of the vulnerable among us.

Another side-step. The Summer before my High School senior year, I was a summer exchange student, living with a German family in Bavaria. The father had a prominent scar on one cheek, which I once questioned. He spoke little English, so his only answer was a single word “ooniversitay” – and offered no further explanation. A year or two after my return, I saw an Italian “shockumentary” movie called “Mondo Cane” (A Dog’s Life – 1962) – which, in one sequence, I witnessed a university fraternity initiation, involving a deep ritual razor slice into the initiate’s cheek – resulting in the very scar I lived with that earlier Summer. I was somewhat offended by the artificiality of the ritual – but then, I wasn’t a fraternity type myself in college. Subsequently, when I consider that my German summer was only 13 years after the 1945 defeat of Germany, perhaps the scar did carry some redeeming virtue for this ex-Nazi serviceman.

Writing this Newsletter on Easter afternoon, and having just completed the ritual ordeal of a Christin Holy Week – I’ve pondered the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ as God’s own wounding/scarring of himself to accomplish the Great Easter Blessing for the world.

Perhaps, when we wrestle with God, we will (and maybe, of course) carry painful wounds and scars, (maybe even fatal – for death itself is a life-wound).

Perhaps, in the divine economy of the Almighty One, this is (his) way of keeping us connected with (his) larger plan for (his) creation without infringing on our own freedom and integrity. 3

Maybe we could

Pay Attention

Footnotes

1 The New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday 1985 – long and still my favorite for its semantic pedigree and style (and great notes).   

   Also, it is not uncommon at that time in Hebrew literary history for God to appear to humankind as an angel.

2  I just came across an online article “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders”- (https://www.jstor.org/stable/25072398) – postulating a secular extension of my own hypotheses.

3 Just as a parting thought to my legalistsic/dualistic thinking Christian friends – one of the deeper mature understandings of Easter, is that we don’t need to be “saved” in order to be fully included in the Easter “Resurrection.”  (There’s a deep wound for many – ruining many sermons)  Sorry guys!  Live with it.

(This is my Easter gift to those friends and clients who suffer “imposter syndrome.”)

Afternote

My initial plans were to conclude with sharing some private examples of personal wounds. But greater wisdom whispered that would be more self-indulgence, less than useful, and to best keep those matters private.   WKM

Pacifism or Passivity

March 2024 Newsletter – Volume 24, No 3 (my #208)

Pacifism or Passivity

Let me begin with a story I’ll frequently share with clients.

The Old Monk and the Cobra

Somewhere in the Indian subcontinent, there’s a village. Beside the village is a small mountain, and on top of it is a shrine. The people of the town, who climb the rugged path for their spiritual exercises, regularly visit the shrine, which has been maintained for many years by an elderly monk.
But one day, he began to notice that fewer and fewer people from the village were making the journey up to his shrine. So he inquired of one of the pilgrims why this might be. He was told, “I’ll tell you why. Near the beginning of the path up, there’s a Cobra, who’s been biting people as they pass by – so many are now afraid to make the trip.”
So, the old monk decided to take matters into his own hands. He makes his way down the mountain path to where the cobra resides. “Brother Cobra (says the monk), I understand you’ve been biting people.” “That is true,” responds Brother Cobra. “Well, this is unacceptable,” (says the old monk). “The people need to be free to use this path without fear of a poisonous Cobra bite. So I’m telling you to stop biting people.” “OK,” responds Brother Cobra, with his head bowed.
The old monk returns up the mountain path to his shrine, and eventually, the people of the village return to their pattern of traversing the path to their shrine.
Then, one day, the old monk decides he’ll go down to visit Brother Cobra. What he finds is his old friend battered, bruised, and broken. “What’s this!” exclaimed the old monk. The cobra replied, “Ever since you told me to stop biting folks, they’ve made my life hell. The young boys whirl me around by my tail, bashing my head onto stones and tree trunks. Others throw rocks at me, kick me, step on me – I would rather die than suffer all this!”
The old monk replied, “But Brother Cobra, When I told you to stop biting people. I didn’t tell you to stop hissing.” 1
ooOOoo

In recent Newsletters, I’ve noted my family heritage of pacifism. But I want to make a distinction that this often has little to do with niceness. That’s why I enjoy this story.

The Curse of Niceness (Passivity)

As a mother (or a father), you wouldn’t point out the carry-out boy at the grocery store and say, “Now, isn’t he a nice young man? That’s the type you want to marry.” You’d maybe want to hire him for customer service, but not for a life partner. 2

Niceness is often a cover for passivity. Remember Alfred E. Newman’s motto of Mad Magazine fame: “What, me worry?” Passivity is primarily the opposite of taking responsibility. (I’ve been a marriage/relationship counselor for almost half a century.)

I recall some years ago, back in the early “Men’s Movement” days, the poet Robert Bly telling us that an essential phrase for men was the resourcefulness (and courage) to say, “Hey, wait a minute!” Women, recently, have become more adroit with that phrase, which frequently leads to terror (or rage) in men.3

Men and women who don’t sometimes know to hiss, more easily get abused in relationships. Or they more easily become abusers. 4

So then, what is Pacifism?

Pacifism is very different. Passivity is a “do nothing” strategy—letting our base human nature (the Amygdala part of the brain) run the show. William Golding’s novel The Lord of the Flies (1954) was popular when I was young. It posited a society of boys ruled by their base natures and the savage chaos that emerged.

Some call it the “Law of the Jungle” – where the ‘natural world’ can act from an inherent balance, which seems to work. The ‘law of the human jungle’ is the survival of the fittest – which appears to work in the ‘natural’ world. Still, in the human world, it gives over to a “law of projection” where whatever we don’t want to deal with, we “project” onto others, and then we can more easily dehumanize (or ‘kill’) any ‘other.’ This is why humans can so quickly go to war. In the human world, “sports” are favored to submit (or sublimate) this chaos to social “rules,” whereby the inner desire to compete is both honored and tempered. In the Roman Circus, sometimes gladiators (and Christians) ended up being eaten by the lions – to the satisfaction of both rulers and the crowds.

In evolving history, pacifism became the social and personal energy to ‘tame the hungry beast’ within – hence an energy for “peace” to counter the energy for “war.” It was based on an evolving assumption that all humanity was equal and sacred and that the seemingly natural desire to dominate or lord it over others has become the root of much social (and political) evil.5

Although its history is varied and often a moving target, Pacifism is a lot of personal work. It takes courage and the willingness to be vulnerable, to stand up for those who can’t, and to teach and encourage those who can.6

“I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”

Now you can see why I love this story of the old Monk and the Cobra.

Learning the difference between biting and hissing is vital to a civil culture. There are many places in our world where you can be killed (or at least locked up) for just hissing. We must protect those who get bitten and those who can hiss (often independent of whether we agree with them).

It’s a matter of balance – a balance that seems even more precarious in our time. The future of our democratic culture and our ability to be a beacon of stability in a chaotic world seem to lie in the balance, especially these days.

We need both wise old monks and wisely trained cobras.

I hope my words can be helpful.

Pay Attention

 

Footnotes

1. I don’t recall where or from whom I first heard this story, but I’ve enjoyed telling it myself for many years.

2 My creative imagination carries this note a step further: The daughter thinks a moment and asks her mother, “Is that why you married Dad?” “Well, yes,” replies the mother. To which the daughter then responds, “And is that why you now hate him?” Nice young men can become passive husbands → which often leads to angry wives (and vice versa).

3 At this point, I’ll (not joking) share a man’s initial imagination: “I think I’d rather shove salt in a Siberian salt mine.” Yet, when a man is willing to respond positively to a woman’s “Hey, wait a minute,” he’ll often find, to his surprise, himself in a positive and creative experience. Amazing!

4 Cf the following online article about the Covert Narcissist: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/201901/all-you-should-know-about-covert-narcissist.

5 While writing this Newsletter, I saw the movie “Origin” (US 2023), based on the New York Times bestseller Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. It was an audience multi handkerchief powerful movie, and ending with unusually great audience applause.

6 I have written earlier in these Newsletter pages about my mother, bringing to our smallish Iowa town the work of the American Field Service. It began in 1915 as wartime battlefield volunteer ambulance drivers – then eventually asked, “Whatever can we do to prevent these wars from ever happening again?” From this grew a great intercultural student exchange program with the motto: “Walk together, talk together, all you peoples of the earth, and we shall have peace.” (I became a High School AFS exchange student in Germany in 1958.)

Lead – Listen – Recalculate

I recall a few years ago enjoying a cartoon in which a car was sitting at the bottom of a pond, from which emerged a GPS voice, “Recalculating.”

A few years ago a client approached me with an unusual ‘problem’. A young woman had made it known to him she had new DNA information he was her biological father. She had since met my client’s wife and grown children, and they had begun the process of integrating a new family member. But then there was a silence, when he didn’t hear from her, and our session at this time was how to deal with that.

Now my client, having a trained engineer’s mind, had two well-developed options. 1) – to do nothing and wait for a signal from his ‘new’ daughter, or 2) – to face the issue head-on and approach her directly.

He already knew from his therapy that for a man, the ‘do nothing’ approach was not usually his wisest choice. But he was afraid a ‘direct’ approach might scare her off, and he didn’t know her well enough to gauge her inner emotional structure. But also, he really wanted the relationship with this new ‘daughter-come-lately’ to work, for himself and his family.

So here is how our session progressed. I assumed she, though relatively young, had experience with ‘do-nothing’ (passive) men, so I ruled that out for him.

To Lead

Though he was uncomfortable with ‘leading’ I suggested that in many ways “to be a man with a woman” means to be willing to Lead. However to lead alone, can easily become ‘controlling’ – and he was aware enough to want to avoid that.

To Listen

The secret to Leading is that it immediately be followed by Listening.

Many men are not good at listening to women. I myself been listening to women professionally for about 45 years now, and continually find how much I have to learn from them. (And I carry a sizable internal catalog of many mistakes I’ve made both professionally and personally over the years.)

I’ve observed that men and women seem to have a different ‘natural language’ – a deep primary form of thinking, listening and speaking. Men are primarily good at getting things done. And they have a ‘natural language’ to accomplish that. Women’s ‘natural language’ is more adept at communicating relationship. A man who can understand that difference may save himself thousands of dollars in therapy, if not the high legal cost of a divorce.[1] Let alone the reward of a happier life.[2]

To Recalculate (be willing to change)

The third element in the formula for my client – “to be a man with a woman” – as a mark of true Listening, is to be willing to change his Leading. I call this “Recalculating” in honor of my GPS experiences, and that delightful cartoon I mentioned above in my heading. When it doesn’t work, be willing to change.

The Larger Picture

It’s a constant cycling of action, listening, and reevaluation.

I write and publish this Newsletter with an awareness I may be wrong in many situations. (call it GPS wisdom, or ‘humility’, or ‘listening to the women’).[3]

A major characteristic of good Leadership is not just to ‘lead’ by always being right, but to build trust, safety, and community. To take what’s given to us and build a better world (like my client with his incipient daughter).

Pay Attention (the future of our planet is depending on it.)

Footnotes

[1] I recall a learning from my acquaintance with Native American culture (in this case the Ojibwa). In their tribal heritage, it’s the men who meet in council to make (wrestle out) decisions. But before a decision can be operative (official), it must be ratified by the women of the tribe. There’s much wisdom in that ‘natural’ balancing of authority.

[2] My model here may not be adept at explaining and defusing deeply angry women or men. Specifically it’s not developed to deal with angry and/or betrayed male-invalidating women, and vice versa. That’s still a ‘work in progress’ for me – I’ve not yet found such a simple code to disentangle that Gordian Knot.

[3] I’m also fascinated by biblical accounts of the God of the Old Testament, where “…and the Lord repented of his anger…” Anger isn’t necessarily bad, as long as we don’t get stuck there. Repentance and reformulation are both divine and masculine distinguishing features.

Afterword (a couple personal examples)

It wasn’t that many years ago that I made a small tactical shift in my personal relationship with women. It had to do with making (or suggesting) plans to dine out. Usually I would ask “where would you like to go?” – having always assumed that giving her the opportunity to choose was a form of masculine courtesy. But what I hadn’t realized was that it was also a subtle way of passing the responsibility (work) of ‘leading’ on to her. Women often like it when a man leads, as long he invites her into the process by listening.

Now if my suggestion of a dining place doesn’t resonate with her, my next temptation then is to ask what she’d like instead. No, Bill, don’t do that!! I’ll continue to Lead by having another suggestion. If she has some input, she’ll offer it herself (as long as she feels safe).

Another example comes to mind. When I was in elementary school, my father, the Methodist preacher, tried something with our family which the Church was currently pushing – called something like Saturday Evening Family Prayers. My father quickly realized (by listening/observing) that it just didn’t work with us – and he quickly gave up the idea. I specifically remember feeling how much I appreciated him for that.

What Now?

Last year, as every year, ended with a narrative about the Holy Birth of a Prince of Peace. Born in innocence and vulnerability
Now, The Seer, as the Elder Year – is ready to let go, move on, and perhaps find some rest. He leans his furrowed forehead onto the Mighty Tree of Life. His third eye, which has already seen so much, maybe too much, now prays forth for a vision, into those roots deep in the earth, asking, “What now?”
Good and evil intermingle into an illusory knotted ball. I’m told the average American kid each day spends 40 minutes outside and 4 hours inside on a device each day. How can he or she ever mature into a world, that in order to survive together, some things need to be fed, some things need to be broken? – and how to discern the difference.
Our view of the Tree can now be altered (“remastered”) in a thousand ways by an “application.” Most of us have such a resident or at least a downloadable app available, often for ‘free.’
But the actual Tree, the one ‘Nature’ can provide, has a corresponding shadow beneath it. If we could but see its root system, it has the same shape and substance hidden beneath the surface. Each, of necessity, feeds and nourishes the other. And the ancient seer knows this prayer for his successor must now penetrate deep.
_ _ _ _ _ _
One of the ‘secrets’ of my profession (or a couple of them), is that when disease or chaos inhabits the outer (larger) world around us, we can (or must) then ‘go down inside’ for guidance and healing. My own initiation has been to seek and follow an innate inner spirit.[1]
And the obverse is also true – when we are ill or broken inside, we can look outside for healing. This may be Nature, a healer, a community, or a particular healing individual.[2]
The upshot is that we cannot do it alone. We need each other, we need community, internal and external. And for various reasons, circumstances, and various personalities, those communities are both horizontal and vertical. My own life work involves healing brokenness in both arenas and directions.
We are given Now, Here, and Time
A spiritual perspective and our secular calendars give us a gift of Time. There was a before, and there will be a hereafter – both of which we can know only a little, except maybe to say they are “in God’s hands.” But between our own birth and death, we are given Now and Here, the Gift of Time. We have a time and a place to Do Something to make a difference – with a Purpose, and within Company for support.
And in response to the question “What now?” – we are simply given Now.
Like the old Seer, to perceive the larger picture, for him Now was time to let go.
Maybe the best news of it being the NEW YEAR 2024, is that for us,
It’s not too late – There’s Still Time
And we’re still Here.
Out of COVID emerged a particular Zoom community that used, from A New Zealand Prayer Book (Anglican), a Night Prayer version of an old Benediction (an Ethic of being sent out)
Good friends,
Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
Render to no one evil for evil.
Hold fast that which is good;
strengthen the fainthearted;
help the afflicted;
honor and respect the dignity of everyone;
and rejoice in the power of the Spirit
In us,
and beyond us all.
Amen
Now, we can better know who we are and why we are here. (Maybe even for the first time.)
Happy New Year 2024.
Pay Attention