Monday, September 12, 2011

Just this once, it's OK.


I was just perusing the recent Harvard Business Review July – August 2010 edition that I got from a colleague when I came across an article by Clayton M. Christensen on “How will you measure your Life?”. For those who do not know, Professor Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and the author of award winning book and New York Times bestseller “The Innovator’s Dilemma” that has transformed the way businesses look at innovation. He is also a deeply religious man and is committed to both community and church. He served as a missionary in the Republic of Korea from 1971 to 1973 and has served the Boy Scouts of America for 25 years as a scoutmaster, cub master, den leader and troop and pack committee chairman.
He says that we often unconsciously employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when they choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it is OK”. The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once”
He recounted a story on the potential damage of “just this once” in his life. He played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team and they finished the season undefeated. They got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament – and made it to the final four. It turned out that the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. He had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that he would never play ball on a Sunday. So he went to the coach and explained his problem. The coach and teammates were incredulous because he was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to him and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?” Well he prayed about what he should do. He got a very clear feeling that he shouldn’t break his commitment – so he didn’t play in the championship game.
He claims in many ways that was a small decision – involving one of the several thousand Sundays in his life. In theory, surely he said he could have crossed over the line just that one one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proved to be one of the most important decisions of his life. Why? His life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had he crossed the line that one time, he would have done it over and over in the years that followed.
The Bible recounts another situational example but this time, the character succumbed to the doctrine. This character is Esau. As is recorded in the Bible, Jacob was boiling pottage when his brother, Esau came in from the fields , tired and very hungry. He asked Jacob for some of this pottage and Jacob said, “Sell me this day thy birthright.” Esau must felt Just this once, it’s OK He said, Behold I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? Jacob told Esau to swear that he would sell his birthright to him. Now Esau and Jacob had been taught to regard the birthright as a matter of great importance, for it included not only an inheritance of worldly wealth but spiritual pre-eminence. He who received it was to be the priest of his family, and in the line of his posterity the Redeemer of the world would come. So Esau sold his valuable birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. A short time at most would have secured him food in his father's tents, but to satisfy the desire of the moment he carelessly bartered the glorious heritage that God Himself had promised to his fathers. His whole interest was in the present. He was ready to sacrifice the heavenly to the earthly, to exchange a future good for a momentary indulgence.
Just this once, it’s OK. Many people face this dilemma in their everyday lives. However one’s choice determines his/her future. It may not just be OK.

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