Decisions: A book review by Bob Morris

Decisions: Practical Advice from 23 Men and Women Who Shaped the World
Robert L. Dilenschneider
Citadel Press (December 2019)

Why the most difficult decisions tend to have the greatest significance

I agree with Robert Dilenschneider that valuable lessons about the art and science of decision-making can be learned from those who have had to make — under severe pressure — complicated decisions with probable high-impact, for better or worse. Hegel once suggested that the most difficult choices are between one good and another. The same can be said about decisions between one bad and another.

All of the 23 women and men on whom Dilenschneider focuses made decisions that helped them to shape the world. Conside these five (n alpha order), each accompanied by one of the top lessons that Dilenschneider suggests:

o Rachel Carson: Write Silent Spring to send a warning worldwide about deadly pesticides such as DDT

Lesson: “Face no-choice decisions (those you have to make honestly and squarely, not half-heartedly. Decide to face what you have no face.” I presume to add, yours must be an all-out best effort. Leave nothing in the proverbial “tank.”

o Mohandas Gandhi: Reject/overcome racial prejudice with non-violent resistance

Lesson: “Do what is right, regardless of the cost. But recognize that you need  to survive and take steps to make sure that you do.”

o Abraham Lincoln: Abolish slavery while preserving the Union

Lesson in Lincoln’s words: “A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But ket him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap.”

o Martin Luther: Condemn the Roman Catholic Church’s use/abuse of indulgences by writing, posting, and printing Ninety-Five Theses

Lesson: “Strive for a balanced approach. On the one hand, root out what you dco in facts, and do your research…At the same time, be open to cultural, creative, and spiritual influences that often seem to defy logic or can’t be quantified.”

o Harry Truman: Use nuclear weapons to end the World War Two sooner with fewer fatalities

Lesson: “It is essential to have your own ‘code,’ made up of your life experience, your education [both formal and especially informal], your conscience, and all the other blocks of character. Often this is called having a moral compass.'”

Others discussed include (again, in alpha order), Muhammad Ali, Marie Curie, Johann Gutenberg, Joan of Arc, Margaret Thatcher, and Elie Wiesel.  Here are five I think are also worthy of inclusion: Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, Helen Keller, Nelson Mandela, Harriet Tubman, and Ida Wells.

However different they may be in most other respects, all of them made their toughest decisions according to values they simply would not compromise. Presumably Dilenschneider agrees with me that making such decisions in life does not develop character; it [begin italics] reveals [end italics] it.

And having courage is essential. I agree with Maya Angelou: “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

The easiest decisions require no thoughtful consideration. Nothing of any great value is at stake. The most difficult decisions pose the greatest challenges because their implications are uncertain even as their potential consequences are substantial aND, as indicated earlier, for better or worse.

I am deeply grateful to Robert Dilenschneider for the wealth of information, insights, and counsel he provides in this uniquely informative examination of multi-dimensional leadership. That is, high-impact leadership driven by energy, empathy, and intellect. Decisions thus driven are most likely to have the greatest beneficial impact.

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