Five questions for the young -- and old

Over a period of 11 years I was engaged in a project for high school seniors designed to give informed assistance in decisionmaking. Because it was a pilot project, we bravely asked for student evaluations at the end of each semester. One student's was typical: ''I somehow feel that I understand life better now. I can make more informed decisions.'' Because the method did seem to help young people over so long a period of time, it should be shared. Family discussion, social club, religious organization, whatever, could all effectively use this technique.

The procedure centers in a thorough consideration of five questions. While the questions can be self-administered, so to speak, they are most effective with a group. The added input of several minds is a distinct advantage. Since no consensus is sought, each individual is free to reach his or her own conclusion and do with it what he wants.

This means, of course, there is no built-in guarantee that what the young person decides will be the same decision the parent would make. (Those who want a foolproof method of ensuring that right decisions will always be made should disembark at this point.)

When the questioning is done matter-of-factly, young people do not feel threatened in the discussion. Even more important, the discussions proceed on the assumption that the young person is mature and capable of making responsible choices once the wide circle of consequences, good or bad, of any person's act are understood. A postscript to this is the almost inevitable emergence of values learned as a child as being the values of worth.

What, then, are these questions that provide so much help?

1. What actual choices are available to me?

Every decision has built into it at least two choices, of course, or the necessity of making a decision wouldn't exist. With a little thought, a third choice usually materializes, and frequently, a fourth, fifth, and sixth. Once that happens, the pressure is off immediately.

2. What are the possible consequences of each choice, both now and in the future?

Even if silly or improbable answers are given, include them. Sometimes they may even be valid, and sometimes they are a device for testing you or stalling or evading some obvious ones. At any rate, including them does no real harm.

3. List the people who might be affected in some way by the choice you make. Try to put yourself in the shoes of each one to understand how each would be affected by your decision.

Sometimes this question can be an eye-opener as the realization that ''no man is an island'' sets in. It is interesting to note that this question was the one most frequently forgotten by high school seniors when going through an exercise in decisionmaking on paper.

4. What values are important in your (my) life?

There are two aspects of this question depending on the maturity of the person making the decision. The less mature will tend to make decisions disregarding any conscious thought of values, and thus the decision itself reveals what their values are; the more mature will decide first what values he or she admires or believes in and then let the values lead to the decision. Whichever the case, this question is an important one. Examples of values are: fairness, my own pleasure, concern for the welfare of others, success, self-respect, self-importance, sincerity, loyalty to friends above all, kindness , etc.

5. Decision and action.

This really isn't a question at all but reflects, rather, the zero hour of decisionmaking. It still may not be easy. As the song says, no one ever promised us a rose garden, but to those who take the trouble to work their way through the questions comes the satisfaction of knowing they honestly tried to be responsible in the choices they were called upon to make. And certainly, responsible approaches to decision-making makes the decisions themselves better ones.

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