Ways of Seeing: To make tough choices, ask questions first

How do you make a difficult choice? Do you talk with friends or family? Do you do research? Do you ask someone you consider wise?
Do you decide by feelings or by logic? Do you wait until you’re sure before making a decision?
In Quaker life, we often use “queries” (questions) to guide ourselves. I also use another set of questions that approach things in a different way. Samples of both are in this column.
Here are some Quaker-style queries that have helped me in the past:
To whom do I belong? What owns me? Where does my loyalty lie? To whom or to what am I accountable? To my job? My spouse? My kids? God? The nation? Finding where my greatest responsibilities are can greatly narrow down a choice.
If money wasn’t a consideration, what would my choice be? Eliminating the money factor usually shows me clearly what it is that I want or need to do. After that, I can put the financial impact back in when figuring out a solution.
Where do I see myself in a year? In five years? Having a picture of the future in mind helps me to see how to spend those intervening years. That makes the “side effects” of certain choices apparent.
What does love require of me in this situation? This is always the kicker. What would the most loving choice be? Sometimes this means love of others, and sometimes it means loving myself — I have to take sufficient care of myself in order to be able to help those I love.
What is the right thing to do? Can I recognize what that is? Are there barriers to doing the right thing? What are those barriers?
What is my life for? We may not know what the overall purpose of life is, but most of us can identify a reason for being, something that gives our individual life meaning and purpose. If you don’t know, then that’s the first thing to do: find out your purpose in life. Without that as a guide, one flounders in an ocean of choices about how to live.
Would I want to be remembered for this action? This question can bring instant clarity.
The other set of questions are based less on thinking and more on being. They are to be taken in the largest possible sense, including body, emotions and spirit.
The instruction is: in considering any action, ponder the following questions. If the action does not serve every item on the list, do not do it.
Will it hurt? How does it “taste?” If I do this, where will it pinch? Will it cripple any part of me? Will it give me a poisonous life, will it make me sick? Can I survive having done this?
Does it love my family? What will the results be for those closest to me?
What is its impact on strangers? Will it hurt anyone or anything, in any way, ever?
Will it bring pleasure? Is it beautiful, does it have grace, will it fit in?
How does it echo to future generations? What are its future repercussions to absolutely everything as far as I can see?
Will it endure? Am I building a castle out of sand where the tide is going to come in?
What legacy will it leave? Will it serve the life purpose of my community? Will it help people and the earth survive?
Is someone else already doing it? Whom I can assist?
Is there someone who can do it better than I? Whom I can assist?
Has it failed in the past? If it has, have circumstances changed?
If I am wrong in my answers to these questions, what would the consequences be? If there may be unforeseeable consequences, do not take the action.
If any important consequences might result, begin again: Ask all of these questions for each possible consequence. If any consequence fails any of the above questions, do not take the action.
Barbara Clearbridge, known around town by her nickname “shulamith” (“peace”), has recently added interfaith Spiritual Direction to her local healthcare practice. She is the author of Natural First Aid & Simple Health Solutions, Heal With Your Hands, Finding God / By Learning How To Pray (soon to be reprinted as /Prayers & Spiritual Practices from Many Traditions), and Recovery: Women’s Words About Healing After Trauma. Her website is FeelingMuchBetter.org.

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