Lesson: Decisions & Mistakes

Session One

What are mistakes?
- wrong decisions
- bad decisions
- decisions that may not be the best possible one

How do we make decisions?
- benefits & costs to ourselves & others
- morality - right or wrong
- possibility - can it be done, etc.

How do we make the right decisions?

--- Joke ---
One day a reporter got a chance to interview a very successful businessman:
Reporter: Sir, can you share with us the secret of your success?
Businessman: Sure, just two words: "Right decisions."
Reporter: Wow, what's deep yet simple.  How do you make right decisions?
Businessman: Easy, just one word: "Experience."
Reporter: Hmmm, just how do you get experience?
Businessman: Two words: "Wrong decisions."

Source unknown
--- Joke ends ---

What steps are involved in making decisions?
- figure out what's involved
     - what you get out of it (benefits)
     - what would it cost you (costs, including possible risks)
     - how it would affect others (externalities)
     - do you have a choice - the difference between a "responsibility" and an "option"
(In economics, you want to make a decision so you get as much "net benefits" (benefits - costs) as you can.)
- decide on what you really want (especially if this involves buying something and you don't have all the money in the world)
     - is this something that's really good for you?
     - can you get something better instead?
     - would you use it if you buy it?
     - can your parents really afford it?
     - what's the difference between "want" and "need"
- decide whether there are moral issues involved
     - is this right or wrong (based on the Bible, normal social rules, your own conscience)?
     - would it help or hurt someone?

How do we prioritize among costs and benefits?
- sometimes there are short-term and long-term effects that you need to consider
- sometimes you know the costs but you don't know the benefits, or vice versa
- sometimes there are possible costs or benefits and you are not sure of the odds for or against you
--- Churchill story ---
The British cracked the German code used during WWII, but they had to make sure the Germans didn't know about it or else Germans would change their coding system and the British would have to spend months or even years to break it again.  One day they found out that German bombers would attack a big city and normally it is not defended heavily by the RAF.  Churchill could tell the RAF to put more fighters there to protect the city and its people, but doing so may make Germans think that the British had cracked their code.  The Allies were planning for D-Day and would need to know Germans' military movements, and if the Germans change the code, the whole invasion may be in jeopardy...
- Do you think Churchill did the "right" decision?  Hundreds of thousands of people died in the bombing of that city.  Do you think the decision is moral?
- Why did Churchill decide to sacrifice all those people?  What could be greater than the lives of hundreds of thousands of people?
- in the movie "U-571," the captain refused to radio the base and chose instead to try to reach Britain on their own.  Why?  What's more important than getting home safely?

When morality is involved...
- can a bad thing be really good at the end?
- who's watching?
- that inner voice, who is it?

What voices are talking to you every time you have to make a moral decision?
- Holy Spirit (the Bible calls Him a special teacher)
- our conscience (with moral principles from our schooling and from our basic human nature)
- the devil

When you are considering doing something bad, the Holy Spirit and your own conscience both try to tell you to not do it.  The devil would work to get you to ignore those voices or to find excuses to get rid of them.  It's up to you to decide which one to follow.  When you follow the Holy Spirit and your own conscience, they become stronger and it would be easier to follow them next time.  If you follow the devil, it becomes more powerful and the voices from the Holy Spirit and your good conscience become smaller.  If you keep following the devil's voices, the Holy Spirit would eventually leave and your own conscience would sort of just buzz off.  Eventually you don't hear either of them anymore.  That's how some criminals don't even feel bad about the crimes they committed.

What happen when you make a bad decision or even an immoral one?
- Bad decisions tend to have bad consequences that you have to bear.  Taking on these consequences may be good in that they help you not to make them again.
- When you make an immoral decision, you have a few choices:
     - Don't think much of it and hope you would not feel guilty about it.  This usually doesn't work.
     - Lie about it and hope no one finds out.  You will be adding another immoral decision on top of the one you already did.
     - Admit your mistake and learn from it.  Accept the punishments.  This may be the least appealing of these three, but it would make you feel better more quickly and you won't be doing more bad things.

Everyone makes mistakes or immoral decisions in his life.  Making mistakes or immoral decisions does not make you a bad person.  But when you keep on deliberately making immoral decisions, then you basically have decided to be a bad person.  When you lie to cover your mistakes or immoral decisions, you lose even more respect and credibility in others' eyes.  When you try to be good, you'll find that people are suspicious of you.  Can you blame them?

Hypothetical situations:

1. You have $15 and you can choose to buy a shirt or a CD.  Which one would you pick?
- What if the shirt is required for school gym? (is this a "want" or a "need"; how about the CD?)
- What if the CD is on sale?
- What if you can get a used CD for a few dollars off?

2. You have an assignment due tomorrow.  It counts very little and probably won't affect your grade.  Your friends are going to see the new movie that just came out.  Should you go, assuming that you have the money?
- The assignment counts very little -> so the "cost" is very little (the cost of movie)
- Is the assignment a "responsibility" or an "option?"  How about the movie?
- Can you do the assignment next week?  Can you watch the movie next week?

3.  If you were Churchill, would you have done things differently?

Session Two

Factors in making decisions

Cost vs. Benefits
Responsibility vs. Options ("must" vs. "optional") -- some things should be done while others are not crucial at all
Necessity vs. Desire ("need" vs. "want") -- some things must be done while some are just nice to have
Right vs. Wrong
Short-term vs. Long-term -- sometimes consequences take a long time to come and should be considered also

Teaching options:
- Use the above factors and draw decision trees for the different questions and stories mentioned in the lesson.  You can use your own creativity to generate these decision trees
- Use some Bible stories as scenarios

Try doing a decision tree on our Christmas 2000 fundraiser ideas.  You may end up showing that the cost of doing one is higher than the benefits to someone else or that things can be done more easily.  For example, why should a student participate in the program if he has the money and is willing to pay $1 a day to play video games.  This brings us to the next topic of discussion:

If costs are greater than benefits and it's not a requirement, why do you do it?

If the costs to yourself are greater than benefits to yourself (but there are some benefits to someone else) and it's the right thing to do, what is it called?
- Sacrifice

What happens when the right thing to do is hard (and they usually are)?
- look to God for strength
- ask yourself "why not" until you do something--don't let it fade from your thoughts
- find those with similar views to support you and cooperate with you
- tell people about it and get their support
- find ways to do it

Jesus came to this world ready to sacrifice himself and to change the world.  Do you think we should follow his example or just live ordinary lives?  Why should we small folks work hard to try to change the world?

This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 12/2/2000