This has been an interesting week; whether we voted 'Remain' or 'Leave' or even if we didn't vote, we made a choice.
Should we have been given the choice?
Yes we live in a democracy and yes one of the key tenets of democracy is the right to choose and to have free will, but were we qualified to make the decisions we made this week? I would argue that we can only make a choice under the following conditions:
It only affects you
I can decide if I want to eat chocolate, if I want to go to work without a coat, if I stay up late because those decisions only affect me.
When my decision only affects me, then I can decide what I like, as long as at some stage my choice isn't going to have a longer term impact on other people. For example, when my son decided he wasn't wearing a coat as we walked up a mountain, his decision started to affect us as we climbed higher and got colder as he then wanted to descend as he was too cold. So his decision potentially affected us all (except, of course, I had put his coat in the back pack!).
As soon as a decision you make affects other people, then your right to express your free will starts to impact on other people's free will.
It has short term consequences or you can change our mind
If you decide where your family go on holiday; although this decision will affect your family, the consequences are short lived. If they love it; great, if they hate it they only have to bear 2 weeks and you can make a different decision next time.
You might decide to leave a job and then wish you hadn't. Even though this will have an impact on other people (employers and family alike) ultimately you can look for another job that we like more and so the consequences of a bad decision are not irreparable.
I have heard that the native Americans used to make decision based on the impact they would have 7 generations hence. This is an excellent strategy for ensuring that short term decisions are considered in the light of their long term implications. Would we have thought that landfill sites were a good idea if we had considered the impact they would have 7 generations hence? How will fracking, genetically modified food, plastic surgery, the overuse of antibiotics look 7 generations from now?
So even short term decisions need to be considered in the light of long term impact.
If you have been given authority by other people to decide for them and only then if you have their best interests at heart
This is where it becomes harder; because as soon as a group of people ask you to decide, you have the complexity of needs that this group of people bring to your decision.
When I have run family retreats, then I have been in the position of being able to make choices about how the groups of families will spend their holidays. However, if I have their best interests at heart and I want them to have the best holiday that they can have (rather than one which is just easy for me to facilitate) then I have to spend a lot of time talking to them and listening to them. I have to listen to what the group needs, but also to what the individuals in the group need. I have to maintain confidentiality about that person's anxiety and this person's phobia whilst still being transparent with the group about what the collective needs are.
This takes time. It take discussion. I listen, I present a format, I get feedback, I might change the format according to the feedback and this process goes on throughout the retreat as different people's needs arise.
To make decisions for others we need to care about them and not be attached to an outcome that we have in mind. We have to hold back our own ambitions, our own desires and out own status in order to be a vessel for the decision of the collective. As soon as we have an agenda or a preferred outcome, we are liable to start manipulating, influencing and shaping the decision of others, which then means the decision is for our good rather than the collective good.
If you are not prepared to put yourself to one side to create the best solution for the needs of all, then you should not be in the position to choose for them.
If you are fully informed
If you are making decision which impacts upon other people and future generations then you need to be fully informed before you make that decision.
Were you fully informed about the Euro referendum? Was the information that you drew on backed up with hard evidence that was recent, reliable and valid? Did you consider the information of all aspects of the situation or did you just focus on the issues that concerned you? Was the information from a trustworthy source? How as the information created? Was it research based, empirical, unbiased?
Being fully informed is hard work. It takes an investment of time and energy to understand the nuances and details, to consider the contradictions, the omissions, the unknowns. To be fully informed we have to look with a neutral eye, without attachment to what we find. Any attachment to an outcome means that we will simply look for information which supports our view point, which is partial information. To be fully informed we need to know all aspects, all implications, all the strengths and weaknesses of the choice we have to make.
If we are not fully informed, we are making decisions based on our own prejudices and when we are making decisions which affect other people, this can become divisive.
If you can reflect
We need to make decisions based on reflection as well as information. When I came out of my marriage, I reflected on my choices in order to learn from them and avoid the same mistakes in the future. Reflection, by definition means looking back in time to look for patterns, to own up to mistakes and to celebrate strengths.
How much of the referendum campaign was spent looking back at all the ways being part of the EU has changed Britain? Did you watch or listen to anything about the history of our relationship with the EU; what it has given us, the changes that have been made as a consequence of it, the losses it has caused? Only when we look back can we fully understand how to move forward.
When something goes wrong at work or at home, the first thing we do is look back at what went wrong, but then we look back further at what this marriage, this career, this relationship has brought us and we look at the current issue in the light of the bigger picture. We weigh up the losses and gains not just in this argument or this performance review, we reflect on the amassed losses and gains over time and we use this reflection on the past in order to decide how to move forward.
Reflection requires wisdom, courage and humility; the humility to acknowledge our own mistakes, short comings and weaknesses, the courage to look back with clarity and not shy away from areas we are ashamed of and the wisdom to learn from what we see and take what we learn forward in a positive way.
Now you can decide
If you meet all 5 of the above conditions, then I think you are in a solid position to make a decision which affects other people.
If we don't meet these 5 conditions then we need to leave our decisions to those who do.
In my life I have worked with a number of leaders who I trusted to make decisions on my behalf. They had courage, humility, wisdom. They reflected. They made decisions based on a sound understanding of all sides of the situation and they listened to their teams. They did what was best for the greater good rather than what made them look good or popular. They steered their ships firmly, kindly and with self awareness.
One of these leaders would laughingly call herself 'a benign dictator'; she would listen to us, consider us and then make a decision using the 5 conditions above. We were happy to let her as we didn't have a full understanding of the past, of the information and of the implications and she did.
There are just some times when it is democratic to hand over our right to decide to someone who is qualified to decide when we are not. We need to understand when we are not qualified to decide and we need leaders who meet the conditions above.
We need leaders with wisdom, courage and humility who we can trust to make decision for us.
We need to be those people in the teams and the families we lead. We need to put our ego to one side and consider the greater good, the needs of all, the information, 7 generations past and hence. We need to listen, reflect and consider and we need to know when we don't know and turn to those we do.