How Can We Make the Best Decisions?

With limited time, energy, and money …

How much does a $20 pair of shoes cost? Perhaps the question sounds foolish. “The answer is obvious,” one might say. “A $20 pair of shoes costs $20.” Certainly that is one answer to the question. A $20 pair of shoes does cost $20 if you agree that the price includes taxes, travel to and from the store, and so forth. But there is another answer to the question when it is considered in a more inclusive framework than people usually use when buying a pair of shoes. This framework is closely related to a basic principle within the gospel of Jesus Christ. The second answer goes something like this:

A $20 pair of shoes costs $20 plus everything else one might have purchased with that $20 if he hadn’t spent it for shoes. In other words, the shoes cost one the opportunity to spend that amount for something else. This principle is sometimes referred to as the “law of opportunity costs.” It is often used by economists to help them choose the wisest way to invest the funds they manage.

Another illustration of this principle is apparent in military strategy. If an officer has five thousand soldiers to defend an area with three fronts, he must decide how to deploy these troops. If he decides to use two thousand men on front line A, it costs him the opportunity of using those particular men on front lines B and C. The same principle applies in our daily lives. Whenever we make decisions regarding the use of our time, energy, or resources, we are subject to this law of opportunity costs. It’s a matter of choice. Time, energy, or resources expended on one thing cannot be spent on something else.

In the words of Samuel the Lamanite prophet, we find the foundation of this principle as it pertains to our spiritual welfare outlined as follows:

“And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free.

“He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you.” (Hel. 14:30–31.)

Many other prophets have also taught this principle, warning us that to the extent we choose to spend our time, energy, and resources doing nothing, worrying, fretting, or concerning ourselves directly with evil—to that extent we lose the opportunity to spend such time, energy, and resources doing good, which is protection against evil.

Choosing to fight directly against evil likewise seems unproductive; like trying to shovel bucketfuls of darkness out of a darkened room, it is quite hopeless. President Spencer W. Kimball calls it being “antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God.” (Ensign, June 1976, p. 6.) If one chooses, however, to spend the same time, energy, and resources in doing good, he defeats evil by pushing it out of his life, just as lighting a single match in that darkened room would push the darkness out.

This principle of decision-making permeates man’s life. Every day, individuals make choices that cost them opportunities and encompass them with consequences. It has been so from the beginning. Looking forward, life appears to be a series of problems viewed with anticipation and perhaps some apprehension. Looking backward, life appears to be a series of solutions viewed through appreciation, satisfaction, and perhaps a twinge of regret that in some instances different decisions were not made. Making the most correct decision is a real challenge—in fact it is the challenge for man.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is comprised of commandments from God that have been given to help man cope with this challenge. These commandments or laws are definitions of reality—definitions of the way things really are when viewed by an all-knowing mind. When these laws are obeyed, the consequences are positive. When they are violated, the consequences are negative. Choosing to obey the commandments—i.e., to comply with eternal reality—results in man’s being able to spend his time, energy, and resources in a maximally positive way. He spends them doing good and loses the opportunity to spend them doing evil. It is this principle that is embodied in the covenants or contracts man makes with God. Man promises to involve himself so completely in righteousness that he loses the possibility of involving himself in evil.

If a father decides to use his time, energy, and resources on projects that take him away from his wife, children, and priesthood duties, it costs him the opportunity of spending such time, energy, and resources on his family and priesthood responsibilities. These expenditures have their consequences.

If young people use their time, energy, and resources in seeking social and physical thrills with drugs, immoral companions, and spiritually unacceptable activities, it costs them the opportunity of using such time, energy, and resources on legitimate growth with wholesome companions and spiritual experiences. These expenditures have their consequences. The individual about to choose a mate in marriage realizes the practical nature of this principle. When a young man or woman decides to marry a specific person, it costs him or her the opportunity of marrying anyone else—they give up all the other young men or women for the chosen mate. Likewise, choosing to disobey the commandments may cost them the opportunity of marrying in the temple and enjoying the consequences of that blessing.

Our understanding of the entire Creation process leads us to believe that our Heavenly Father recognized that choosing certain things meant losing the opportunity of getting other things. He recognized that real human development meant selecting the good by paying the price of giving up evil. He provided man with this opportunity when he placed him upon this earth and outlined the consequences of choosing—or as we might say, of becoming subject to the law of opportunity costs. “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell,” he said. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

“And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abr. 3:24–26.)

Day by day, man makes his choices and spends his time, his energy, and his resources. As Latter-day Saints we have the fulness of the gospel to guide us in our decision-making. The covenants we enter into are designed to help us make commitments, a step at a time, to spend our time, energy, and resources for the benefit of the Lord’s purposes. This costs us the opportunity of spending such time, energy, and resources on Satan and his program. Thankfully, these wise expenditures have their consequences.

[photo] Photography by Marilyn Erd

Neil J. Flinders, director of records, research, and evaluation for the Church Educational System, is the Gospel Doctrine instructor in the Manila First Ward, Pleasant Grove Utah Timpanogos Stake.