Salvor Hardin’s Guide to Decision-Making

Ivan-Waves at Night

Why Finishing Well is the Best Option

During my years teaching high school, I occasionally talked with students about college and career. They had questions about which college to attend, how to get financial aid, and whether or not they should pursue higher education or go into business. For the most part, I provided a listening ear as students answered their own questions.

However, the problem for some people as they wrestle with life-decisions is when they are motivated by instant gratification. There are people who want what they want when they want it. These people are enthusiastic about a variety of things, usually things that are fun and exciting. They are easily impressed by the lifestyles of the rich, famous, and powerful and want to emulate them. They tend to dualistic in their thinking. Everything is either-or, good-bad, win-lose. For them, a simple decision about whether to go to school or go into business can be toxic. For those people, I recommend the epigrams of Salvor Hardin, the quintessential entrepreneur.

Salvor Hardin is a character in the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. A trader by profession, Hardin used his wits and experience to make challenging yet eventually successful decisions. When faced with an either-or decision, he chose the third option, which is running the race to the end and finishing well. For those of you who have difficulty making decisions, I present his epigrams for your perusal and edification.

“Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”

If one examines the morals of people for whom all decisions are fraught with drama, one can find they are usually based on expediency. Such morals should be rejected at all costs. Expedient morals are transitory morals, available for sale to the highest bidder. I make it a point to consider all decisions based on morals suspect, not to be trusted. History books are filled with political and economic decisions based on expedient morals, resulting in disaster. If you find your morals are at odds with what you know is right, I recommend you go with what is right.

“Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.”

Let us assume for the time being that you do not have your hand on a nuclear button. Then the consequences of your decisions are not going to be the end of the world. To think otherwise is an illusion. I learned this fact my first year teaching, and it saved me a ton of agony. Despite what sounded true at the time, I did not blight my students’ academic achievement if I occasionally made a mistake. I sometimes made decisions that did not turn out well, but life continued anyway. If you are worried to distraction about choosing college or career, you may well be obsessing over something that sounds true but actually is not. You may want to consider if the pressure is coming from someone else’s agenda. One of my epigrams states: Everyone has a plan for you life. People with agendas make everything sound true, but you are not obligated to believe them.

“A nuclear blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.”

Now let us assume that you do have your hand on a nuclear button. If you are making that kind of decision, then DON’T. In other words, DON’T. Let me put it another way–DON’T, especially if you are the type of person who makes expedient decisions. (I don’t know how in the world someone like you would be in charge of a nuclear weapon, but we live in a strange world.)

Nuclear weapons aside, you may find yourself facing a situation in which your decision carries weighty consequences. Remember that the blast you discharge can turn back on you. As Salvor Hardin says, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” So be careful.

Finishing Well

Salvor Hardin made life-and-death decisions, decisions that affected entire worlds. He considered his choices, listened to his counselors, and waited. Then he decided. He was a visionary that looked beyond the expediency of the present to possibilities for the future. In the end, he chose to finish well. I recommend that be your guide in all your decisions. Whatever you do, finish well.

I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with.
C. S. Lewis ~ Surprised by Joy




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