Sunday, January 11, 2009

Just Decisions by Alistair Mackenzie and Wayne Kirkland

Just Decisions is a book about ethical decision making in the sphere of work and commerce, in conversation with the resources of the Christian faith.

The book is a welcome addition to the growing body of religious literature that shifts the focus from the worship place to the market place and from Sunday issues to those that preoccupy believers on Monday. The authors state in their introduction that “this book is all about making decisions—ones that are consistent with our Christian faith. Ones that are good, right, just, and appropriate.”

The volume is written by a New Zealand duo, Alistair Mackenzie, a former member of New Zealand’s counterculture and Wayne Kirkland, a former car salesman. An ex-hippie and an ex-car dealer writing about ethics? It sounds paradoxical but this is only one of the amazing features of the book. These two writers not only come out of different backgrounds but they have different personalities and different passions which combine to make for a rich range of insights and a recognition of the diversity of their readers and their decision making dilemmas.

Like models at a fashion parade Just Decisions puts on and off a variety of different styles including a case study of Wayne’s dilemma as a car dealer seeking to do the right thing by his customer, a collection of Biblical principles that are judged to be relevant to work decisions and a discussion of how one brings age old precepts to bear on everyday decisions.

Just Decisions is not a book of answers and formulas from authors trying to respond to ‘Dear Abby’ letters. On the contrary, it encourages readers to think for themselves and to help with this each of the twelve chapters conclude with a section entitled, ‘Questions for Reflection and Discussion’. This book is intended to be used by small groups of people and inherent in this feature is the conviction that thinking through decision making dilemmas with other people—with the Bible in one hand and the diary in the other—is one of the valuable resources that the faith offers.

This book doesn’t promise an easy or quick fix for the second part encourages readers to cherish and live with ‘creative tension’. It examines such tensions between love of God v love of profit, love v competition, people v profit, humility v ego, work v the rest of life and charity v wealth.

The down-to-earth nature of the book is apparent when the authors voice what many might be too afraid to ask: “Does religious faith make any difference to how people make business decisions?” Mackenzie and Kirkland take this question seriously and discuss it openly and in conjunction with research that they and others have conducted.

Just Decisions is an easier book to read than to apply. It is written in ‘thin’ theological language so inexperience in religion should not be a barrier for business people wondering if they would benefit from this book.

The authors sprinkle their discussion with interesting stories about 4WDs, property development and retailing which open up windows to illustrate, inspire and challenge. For instance, check out this story that they cite from the movie, The Big Kahuna, about faith, integrity and industrial lubricants.

There are stories about Wayne the car dealer, Roger the property developer, Trev (sounds like an Aussie) the rug and mat retailer, Raj his Indian supplier…. One starts to wonder why women are not appearing in these anecdotes or don’t they face the decision making dilemmas common to blokes? But, half way through the book (when some women might have lost interest) we are introduced to Barbara the real estate company director, Sally who works in customer service, Kim the training sales person and Jane the lawyer.

Stories from workers in the Bible appear as naturally as workers drawn from Enron, Cadburys, General Motors and some lesser known Kiwi companies. The authors seek to address the dilemmas faced by all types of people including employees as well as CEOs.

Just Decisions is the product of careful research, patient listening and extensive surveying. For instance, it is most instructive to discover the answers to the question that was put to many Christians: “What is it that you struggle with most as a Christian in your work?”

This book deserves to be read, reflected upon over a period of weeks and discussed with others, especially over lunch in the office and workplace.

Alistair Mackenzie and Wayne Kirkland, Just Decisions: Christian Ethics Go to Work (Christchurch, NZ: NavPress, NZ, 2008).

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: The front cover of Just Decisions.