Making Decisions at Scale


Decisions can be difficult, even at a small scale, when the outcomes of those decisions only effect a few people. Those same decisions become increasingly more difficult as you increase the number of people impacted by the outcomes. Andy Stanley has often said that he attempts to make decisions to “do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” This both speaks to our need to do something, perhaps even something that doesn’t make “sense” practically to serve a person or situation in reach. It also tacitly admits that we cannot “do for everyone what you wish you could do for everyone.”

Let’s use a couple of examples to hopefully make this more personal and relatable. Since most of us have never been responsible for anything much larger than a family unit, we will start there to see that even in that situation our decision-making process shifts and faces real limits.

Picture yourself leading a family of five–2 adults and 3 kids. Say one of your children contracts a deadly virus, but there is hope for a cure using one of two treatment options. The first option costs $10,000 and has a 90% chance at success, the second treatment costs $1,000,000 and has a 95% chance of success. We are going to do something, so the choice comes down to the last 5% and is it worth spending $990,000 for that chance. I cannot think of a parent who wouldn’t immediately make the choice to push for the extra 5%, regardless of the cost. I would sell my house, talk to every person I know, do a gofundme, take out loans… does it matter? It is my child, and no price is too high for even a small increase in the chance of success.

Now let’s change the scenario a bit and see how our decision-making might shift. Instead of one of my children being sick, this time it is me. The same options are in front of me, but my choice will be considerably different. I have a hard time imagining any scenario in which I would choose the second option. I know the generational financial burden I would be placing on my family to get into that kind of debt, and I just wouldn’t do it.

So what changed in these two scenarios? In the first the decision I was looking at one person in one time. In the second scenario I was thinking about (at least) 4 people over the course of generations. This highlights the reality that personal decisions are different from public policy decisions. Making decisions for many people over multiple generations is different and it is difficult. That encourages me to offer grace to those in authority over me who are making such decisions, especially when I understand just how limited they are. Because, we live in a society full of limits. Limits of knowledge, resources, and geography to name a few.

My second example will hopefully bring those limitations to light more clearly.

For years my wife and I have been connected to a feeding program in our local school district that helps feed about 3,500 kids every day and over the weekends… when school is in. A problem arises each summer when, instead of 3,500 students coming to 70 locations, they all spread out to 1,500 locations. Did I mention our school district covers 200 square miles? Would we still love to provide healthy, individual meals for each of these 3,500 kids every day? Certainly. But we live in a world of limited resources, which create limited options, and cannot perfectly meet the needs of our community.

That last statement gets to the heart of what motivated me to write this… that at times I feel like people are judging others, particularly those in authority, by their ability to perfectly meet the needs of their community. That is an impossible standard for anyone. Anyone but the One that is. The fact is, there is only One person in the course of history who has been able to “do for everyone as your wish you could do for everyone.” He is the one who can make water come from rocks in the desert, while bread falls from the heavens and birds land on your plate for dinner. He saw a world in need and paid the ultimate price, His own life, to meet that need. He continues to offer a ridiculous kind of love that gives His all to everyone. That is because while we are limited by knowledge, resources, and geography, He is limited by none of these.

If you have a desire to see perfect and personal outcomes from those in authority, that is a good thing; but it will continue to leave you disappointed so long as you look to earthly authority. Our best attempts will always be lacking. God alone can provide the solutions you seek; and be encouraged, because He is willing to give to any who will humble themselves and ask.

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