Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils

I read from time to time about people who have decided not to vote because they are tired of making a choice between what feels like the lesser of two evils. Perhaps their candidate of choice got elected and compromised more than they "should have." Or neither of the candidates truly reflects the person's convictions. I'm hearing from some folks in Illinois that neither of the senate candidates is all that great. I agree that holding one's nose while voting doesn't exactly inspire excitement. You think to yourself, "Out of the entire country (state, city), these two clowns are the best candidates we could come up with?" Doesn't make you want to hop out of bed and stand in a long line at the polls before work.

And yet isn't life often about choosing between two imperfect (sometimes highly imperfect) options? I know a woman whose mother was in a slow decline due to illness, and in the end, she had to choose between two different therapeutic options, one of which would lead to congestive heart failure and the other to kidney failure. In the former case, death can come more quickly, but it's an anxious, uncomfortable process. In the latter case, the person just slips away, but it can take longer.

Talk about the lesser of two evils.

Recently while I was pondering a decision, some friends asked me, "What's the worst that can happen if you choose X, or Y?" Now, in this case I was trying to decide between two good things. And with two good things, you really can't go wrong, and it's freeing just to do the best you can with the decision.

But really, at its heart, "What's the worst that can happen" is a question about minimizing the negative outcomes. Kind of a "do the least harm" thing. And sometimes that's the best we can do. So much is out of our control; even the outcome of our decisions is largely out of our control.

Back to voting. I'm always thrilled when there's a candidate that aligns exactly with my values. Hardly ever happens though. So I go with the one that's slightly closer to me than the other, and then I call and write letters and do all that stuff one does, including supporting a primary challenger who more accurately reflects my values, if it comes to that.

I hope that doesn't make me complacent, or a pessimist. I just remember that ten years ago, a third-party candidate convinced a good number of people that there was no difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I don't know anyone credible today who thinks that an Al Gore presidency would have been "no different" than the George W. Bush one.

I learned in seminary that the book of Exodus gets its name from the Greek which means, "a way out." I love this. It's not THE way out, it's A way out.

In one sense, this can speak of abundance (something I write a lot about)---God could have rescued the people in any infinite number of ways, but chose this one.

But you can also see it with a different slant, a sort of "eh, there might be other ways to do it, maybe even better ones, but this gets the job done." Kind of a MacGyver God: the world's an imperfect place; you don't always have the tools you need, so you kinda do the best with what you've got. So if you're MacGyver, you break yourself out of the bad guy's lair with the chewing gum and the brillo pad, and if you're the American voter, you try to make the world a better place with a candidate that you find the least offensive.

As I said, this doesn't inspire a lot of excitement, and we should all work for change---does anyone NOT agree that our campaign finance system is broken?---but such is the world as it stands.

I don't know. No pithy conclusion here. Just thinking.

How Do You Decide?

How do you decide what's "yours to do"? I've got an invitation in my e-mail box to do some writing for someone. It's a paying gig, which is a rare and wonderful thing... though let's not kid ourselves, it's not much. And I try not to break it down by the hour.

I've written for this outfit before. It's not hard stuff, and I believe in what they're doing, but it's not exactly what I want to be focusing on right now. There are two large projects I want to work on that I really feel energy for, but there's no deadline on them, and if they take a little longer because of side projects, well, nobody will care but me (and perhaps my writing group).

The invitation came right before I left, so I mulled it on my trip. As often happens, I came home from our travels invigorated, and resolved to be intentional about the things I take on, to avoid doing things just because they're expected of me by others. Again I link to the Christian Century and the article about the power of travel.

Our church also suffered a sudden, unexpected loss of a pillar member while I was away. I will miss T and her caring spirit. Such losses always invite us to consider our lives and make course corrections if necessary. Life is short and we are each irreplaceable.

So this morning I started to write a "no thanks" e-mail... and then something stopped me. I started to think about how the project really wouldn't take that much time, and it's far enough out that I could plan my time to get it done and also work on my personal projects. It's a slightly different focus than the work I've done for them before, which makes it enticing. Besides... I'm a writer. I serve a church part-time so that I can work on projects just like this one.

Those are all valid points, but I wonder if they are really what stopped me. Maybe I stopped because of fear. Maybe I am worried that if I start saying no to stuff, people will stop asking. Or maybe it's ego---I want to feel important and needed. Or maybe it's competitiveness---they'll ask someone else and like his/her stuff better.

First John talks about "testing the spirits" to see if they are of God. If I am leaning toward yes, and and that comes from a place of trust and joy, then I want to go that way. If I am working primarily out of fear or shadow stuff, then I want to check that. Unfortunately, most decisions are a muddled mix of both.

Interestingly, Bruce Reyes-Chow (the former moderator of our denomination) just announced today that he's letting go of two projects he's been working on. I admire his discernment and am sure it was tough. I believe in saying No when it allows you to work on the larger Yes, but discerning what that is isn't easy.

How do you decide to say no to worthy invitations? How do you determine what's "yours to do"?