By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Second Method

No, this post is not about natural family planning; but it is about planning, the planning of our lives, in communion with God. As noted before on this site, Fr. James Martin, S.J., has written a book about discerning decision-making which applies the insights of the Spanish-Basque founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius Loyola. The "Second Method" is one way that Ignatius suggests in choosing between two or more good alternatives. I describe the "Second Method" here because it is the method that appeals more to me personally. If you read Fr. Martin's book, you may very well or likely find something else that appeals to you more than this particular method. Here is the "Second Method" in a very small nutshell with my paraphrasing or quoting directly from the book:

1. "Imagine what advice you would give to" a person facing the same alternatives as you are facing. This tactic enables us to be more objective about our situation and "free[s] [us] from focusing" too much on ourselves and our emotions--although we certainly should not ignore our deepest, mature desires, which are often, or even likely, the ways used by God to call us to certain paths in life.

2. "Imagine yourself at the point of death." Which alternative would you seriously regret not choosing?

3. "Imagine yourself at the Last Judgment." Remember the famous saying by another Spanish saint, St. John of the Cross, to the effect, that at the end of our lives, we will be judged by love--not by material possessions or prestige or popularity or our hedonistic exploitation of life or business success. Which alternative is the more loving alternative--in the Christian sense of non-selfish love for the other (agape)?

4. "Imagine what your best self would do." This particular suggestion stems from Fr. Martin himself, not directly from Ignatius. But you can see how it dovetails with the Ignatian method--looking at our current decision-making from a more objective, definitive perspective (often from a future perspective) in order to expose the less important or compelling alternatives.

Another important but simple Ignatian suggestion for this method and the other approaches described in the book is the practice of indifference, in the special Christian sense, of not being biased ahead of time in favor of one alternative or another, of entering the discerning process with as much neutrality as possible except for favoring whatever choice leads us more to God (which, by the way, would be the choice that leads to our authentic flourishing as human beings, as St. Irenaeus famously reminded us centuries ago). The prerequisite of initial indifference to the alternatives enables us to apply the suggestions listed above in a productive and effective way.

Another overriding principle in all these Ignatian approaches is the willingness to reevaluate past decisions in the light of new data. In the Ignatian approach, changing one's mind in response to reality is not a mark of failure but rather something to be expected. In addition, no method guarantees perfect decisions because all paths incorporate drawbacks and imperfections. That's just reality, and the Ignatian approach is supremely realistic.

There are many more insights in the book. The ones above are those that made it to the top of my list. Come up with your own list.