Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth

Taking It Home: Decision Making

Part of Virtue Ethics

Every intersection in the road of life is an opportunity to make a decision. — Duke Ellington

IN TODAY'S WORKSHOP... we talked about decision making. We heard a story about how the brain makes decisions. Understanding decision making is important because our decisions help shape who we are. We learned a quote from the Buddha which we will read every time we meet, to remind us that thoughts become deeds, which become habits, which become our character. Therefore, we need to be careful where our thoughts and deeds lead us.

The Brain. Find out more about why scientists think humans have the largest cerebral cortex. Here is a blog posting with one opinion. An episode of the PBS science series NOVA, "The Human Spark," also discusses this phenomenon.

Virtue Snapshots. Richard Bach wrote, "All we see of someone at any moment is a snapshot of their life, there in riches or poverty, in joy or despair. Snapshots don't show the million decisions that led to that moment." Yet, we constantly judge or make a decision about people based on these snapshots. Is this fair? Try taking "virtue snapshots." Notice when people around you, especially strangers, make moral decisions and take a snapshot in your mind. Look for both virtuous and not-so-virtuous acts. The person in line in front of you gives the cashier back the extra change they accidentally gave them. A baby drops its pacifier and a stranger walks by without picking it up. A friend passes a rumor about another friend without ever asking if it was true. Why do you think that person made that decision? What experiences have you had that would lead you to make the same, or a different, decision?

A Ritual. The book, How to Bury a Goldfish: And Other Ceremonies and Celebrations for Everyday Life, by Louise Nayer and Virginia Lang (Boston: Skinner House, 2007) includes a ritual on making choices on pages 148-149. It might be helpful in situations where you have conflicted feelings.

Virtues Survey. This program has a limited number of meeting times. Therefore, we can only explore a limited number of virtues. Have you ever thought about which virtues are the most important? Survey your family and friends. Ask for the top five most important virtues in leading a good life. Compare the lists. Are there any surprises? Bring the list to the next workshop and ask the leaders which ones the group will discuss.

Old-fashioned "Virtue." The word "virtue" can feel old fashioned. We do not often use it in everyday speech. Are you comfortable using the word? What does "living a virtuous life" mean to you? Do you think of yourself as virtuous? Is there another, similar word you might use instead?