Sometimes I get asked to react to a proposed idea, book or program. Being the age that I am, I think I can offer something important: Helping others see what’s not there.
In these times, it seems difficult enough to react wisely to what comes our way. The flow of information comes at us with increasing speed, volume and complexity—so we naturally respond in like manner, perhaps satisfied that we’ve handled these matters well under pressure. Even if we try to slow down and simplify a smaller amount of decision-making, we may still be primarily reactive, perhaps only to what’s obvious.
One of the gifts of being older might be the ability to look for the man behind the curtain, what’s over the horizon or what’s hiding in the reeds. (These older analogies for older readers; for younger readers, “The 30,000 ft. view”, a God-like vantage point!) Nowadays, when I’m asked for my evaluative or helpful questions or observations, I react to what I see, but then add the important question, “What’s missing here?” That’s when decision-making can get interesting!
From years of experience, I might ask about possible holes in logic; incomplete thought patterns; absent facts, audiences or stake-holders; unintended consequences or cognitive biases that aren’t accounted for. I can help folks step around purely reactive thinking, into new mindsets or frames of reference. I can probe for alternative courses of action, assumptions on which a decision is supposedly based and opportunities not yet seen. If asked, I can offer warnings and guidance. But because I understand the surprising way that God’s Spirit works, I can also point to optimistic and visionary scenarios or outcomes that are also possible.
I understand that any decision—especially one that seems to require immediate action—can get weighed down by attention to everything that’s missing. I accept the possibility that my insistence on thinking about as-yet-unseen factors could overburden decision-makers, leaders, writers, family members or colleagues past their breaking points. “What’s missing?” could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So these days, when I’m asked to review a manuscript, plan or project, I try to be careful. First, to see whether others are willing to look a little deeper and wider. To establish their willingness to step off a fast-track choice. When given their assent, I try to be gentle because I understand the pressure they face to make decisions, to produce, to lead with assurance.
I know that when I look at this idea through the lens of my faith, I realize that wisdom, morality or care don’t happen in sudden spurts of energy. It can be a gift when I offer the possibility that others can slow their lives to a manageable pace. My “What’s missing?” question might calm or comfort the spirit of someone who has a vague sense of flying by the seat of their pants, perhaps dangerously so. I might fan a spark of creativity that got squashed in the rush to do something quickly. My question might give an introverted team member the chance to speak up.
Whether or not others welcome “What’s missing here?” from me, it feels like part of my responsibility as an experienced elder to offer increased clarity in decision-making. With respect for others’ roles and responsibilities, I hope to be helpful to them in this way.
And you’re right: I am probably missing something here, too!
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