I’m not a very decisive person.  I take that back.  I am a decisive person.  I simply take more time than many to arrive at a conclusion.  I have missed some cheaper airfares in my deliberations, and I have frustrated many of my family and friends with my ruminative style.  Being more deliberative also means I rarely get the first or even second word in when it comes to discussions or debates.  I listen and think for awhile before opening my mouth.  Yet, taking longer to make decisions generally works for me.

Several years ago I was involved in a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit.  I know it was spirited because the hotel management came to the room and told us to hold it down.  We were disturbing the sleep of others in the hall.  The team I was on identified a process we called “The Certainty Factor.”  If a team member came up with an answer quickly and decisively, we generally went with that answer no matter how many other possibilities were suggested.  The Certainty Factor works pretty well for Trivial Pursuit, but I have concerns about it being the primary factor in most other decisions of life.

In my college teaching, I had students each semester who were quick on the draw.  They were high on the Certainty Factor and always had the first response in a class discussion.  Others in class rarely got a word in.  By the time they had formulated a response, the discussion had moved on.  These students were just as intelligent as the quick ones, but they needed more time to consider their responses.  In individual conferences with the students, I challenged the rapid responders to sit with their thoughts for a minute, to think further into their response, and to listen to others for further insight.  I challenged the deliberative students to take a risk and state their thoughts and opinions without as much thought or self-censoring.  Each student’s response style was based in a different kind of fear or anxiety.  The rapid responders had been praised over the years for being quick, articulate, decisive, and often witty.  That’s what worked for them, and they feared being seen otherwise.  The deliberative students were fearful of being wrong or of not sounding intelligent, so they carefully formulated their ideas before speaking.  Experimenting with a different response style was generally a powerful learning experience for each kind of student.

Clear opinions and quick, decisive actions certainly have their time and place.  However, I am suspicious of such certainty in most areas of life.  I am immediately wary of politicians who simplify national, international, economic, or social issues with quick answers and sound bite solutions.  If the issues were that simple, they wouldn’t be issues.  We see what has happened with a president who bluffs his way through with false certainty.  I don’t trust religious leaders who talk about matters of faith as if they were foregone conclusions.  In matters of personal growth and relationships, I learned long ago that these were neither simple nor certain.  Beware of the politician, minister, salesperson, or friend who starts a sentence with, “It’s really quite simple.”  Unless it’s a game of Trivial Pursuit, they are probably promoting their opinion, not truth.  Ambiguity, uncertainty, deliberation, and thoughtful timing are more often the realities of our lives.

In my own experience and in my work with individuals who are trying to make sense of loss or tragedy, I found that certainty is what people grasp for in order to feel better.  Ambiguity, uncertainty, and vulnerability are what people embrace in order to get better.