Charles Spurgeon once wrote that “Discernment is not the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong; rather, it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”
Considering the difference between right and almost right is indeed an interesting proposition.
When most people consider discernment, they do not consider the shades of gray that compromise many choices which actually present in our day-to-day lives. They think about stories which underpin the fantasies of ‘otherhood’ – the frail yet definable space of easily solved problems. In other words, when most people consider discernment they default to binary challenges.
Yet many decisions – realistically – are not so clear, and their nuances and implications are not easy to perceive. After all, right and almost right can look from a distance like twins holding hands.
What does right and almost right look like in your life? Not the easy, yes or no-type discernments, but the ones where the answers are shades of gray?
The answer likely depends on what problems you face.
‘Right’ in a professional setting might be taking a meeting in-person vs. online to show your seriousness about the project. It might mean showing up. Or right might mean conducting the encounter virtually to display sensitivity to the time or effort saved by not engaging personally. Right might mean having a candid conversation with a subordinate about performance problems – but it also might mean following up on that conversation with an email for the record. Or maybe not, since documenting problems is discoverable and may damage the subordinate’s professional prospects. ‘Right’ might mean holding yourself or others to a high standard, but it also might mean allowing for forgiveness. Or a break. Or a change. Or discretion. After all, unless the exit off the high road is unethical, who among us hasn’t been saved by another person who forgives and proffers another chance? Or keep our confidence in hard times?
Discernment is the common denominator in all these decisions. There may be more than one right answer, realistically. Discernment enables you to select the best answer. And what is best, you ask? The answer that sits on the horizon of the long view.
The long view, the memory, is what matters. It’s what will either keep you up at night or soothe you to sleep. The best ‘right,’ is what will give you peace. ‘Almost right’ is more likely to cause turmoil. It’s more likely to cause regret. And understanding how to discern effectively and turn that perception dial up to 11 (nod to Spinal Tap) is the saving factor.
So how do we do ‘discernment,’ better? Not in the right or wrong, good or evil scenarios, but in the practical circumstances we face every day? How do we discern the right choices that will lift us up?
Consider several things, in fact.
First – consider what you know. Remember, right and almost right are twins from a distance. Try to perceive the implications of your choice not just in terms of what it means in the obvious ways, but in the less apparent ways. For example, if you opt to take the meeting in person you will see your interlocutor face-to-face. This means many things in today’s world. It is a health-related choice. It’s a bonding opportunity (if you have not seen the interlocutor in a while, it presents an opportunity to connect, present a gift, build rapport, etc.) It is a choice the interlocutor will view a certain way as well.
Second – consider what you don’t know. Sometimes there is an expanse in how a choice looks to you and how it appears to another person. You can bridge the gap by asking questions, eliciting emotions and presenting proactively.
Third – remember whatever you learned from your discernment after the decision is made. This is the arduous step, and often the least adhered to component of discernment. After all, our world is flooded with information, and it’s easy to either forget or turn away from important discernments, especially if they are more complex. Right and almost right are not the same, but the world is so awash with information that an easier ‘almost right,’ can grow legs even after you choose the alternative. So, when you discern and act on the right thing, recall it. Remember the reasons you decided to do the best ‘right.’
Discernment is also erodible, not only by way of new circumstances, but also by way of other people. You will no doubt encounter convincing, covetous characters in your life – covetous meaning they will want something from you in return for something more valuable. These are the very associates who will attempt to undermine and minimize the discernment you paid so dearly to attain. After all, many business decisions are classic 51/49 scenarios. Not equal, but tilted. While 49 may not seem bad at the moment, 51 can make all the difference in the world. It’s better, and so are the compounding returns that result from it. Step back from people who try to convince you otherwise. The 51 chosen is an earned decision.
Lastly – live discernment like you always knew it. This is almost as difficult as remembering, but remembering is more important. Because if you fail to act in accordance with what you’ve discerned, new and similar circumstances will be just as difficult as they were the first time. This will waste the time and whatever cost you paid for the original discernment. Don’t just be confident in speaking your discernment. Walk in it.
Charles Spurgeon also once wrote that many men owe the grandeur of their lives to their tremendous difficulties. Discernment can be difficult, but it is also like everything else in life – a skill that with practice and purpose becomes less complicated to perform and apply. Doing so will go far to sharpen your perception, advance your ability to make nuanced choices, and produce improved outcomes.
And bring you peace.