A recent issue of the Costco Magazine, The Costco Connection, included an article on Sir James Dyson, inventor of the Dyson vacuum and an number of other products. The article described the history of the development of the vacuum as a way of also relating the process that Dyson went through in the development of his business and his values. One of the most compelling aspects of the story was Dyson’s clarity about his decision to produce the best vacuum possible. Sir James went through 13 years of failures (5,127 prototypes), near bankruptcy, 2 lawsuits, rejections, illicit copycats, and supply problems. But, in it all he knew his concept was right. He also did not mind working alone. Now that his product is a huge success (number one in the UK) he is quite happy to let go of total control of his business to a group of engineers. He is very involved but not hovering. Dyson has never been concerned with a certain timeline for getting products from concept to marketing. He told The Connection, “I don’t care how long things take.” He also states: “Failure is to be celebrated–That’s how we learn. I learned from each of my mistakes. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure.” There is not a shred of religious talk in this article but it is in fact full of Gospel values and the basic principles of Right Judgement.
This gift of the Holy Spirit was exclusively referred to as “Counsel” until the end of the 20th century. The more recent use of “Right Judgement” for this gift points to the balance needed in availing oneself of the gift. “Counsel” has always emphasized the active need for and role of the Holy Spirit in determining the truth and making decisions. The term “Right Judgement” emphasizes the role of the person. In Catholic thinking, both God and the person are involved in the constant process of identifying what is real and what is best and correcting one’s course towards these. Some religious groups emphasize either the sovereignty of God in the process or the sovereignty of the person. Catholicism holds both in balance. The Tradition is sufficiently optimistic about humanity to affirm the role of free will and yet well aware enough of human weakness to affirm the need for grace. Another term for this gift is Discernment.
James Dyson speaks of not being afraid of being alone, of failure, of learning new things, or of long processes. With these values as his foundation, he is in a perfect place to make good decisions. The only thing he is missing from this life stance is the place of God in his perceptions and actions. Why does it matter that God be involved if Dyson is so successful and reportedly happy?
In the article, Sir James reports that he loves to invent and has a passion about setting one goal after another and working toward them. All of that is fantastic on one level. On another level, one could ask if a person might let God get a word in edgewise about the over-all direction of his life? The surrender of that basic orientation of life is incomprehensible to nonbelievers. The idea that life is a dance with the Spirit is crazy to the successful person in the normal secular context. Dyson is happy, so why bother with him? My inclination is to leave him alone, but a large part of me has had a lot of experience with universal human limitation. By definition, James Dyson (and all of us), does not have access to the sum of his full potential. At this point, he is controlling all variables of his life as far as he perceives them. The idea of consciously referring himself to a high reality is not in his view.
In seeking Right Judgement, a person first lives a life as open to the truth as possible. With specific aspects of life, such as job, relationships, health, education, finances, civic involvement, or faith, a person is expected to do as much as possible to grow in knowledge of these things and self-knowledge in relation to these things. Beyond this, he or she can bring these things to prayer. Doing a daily exercise of putting different aspects of life or the way the day has gone in front of God can open up a type of detachment in which one can sort through how a specific part of one’s life or the whole day feels. If I ask for an openness to my finances I may see that I fritter away money on creative projects that I end up not doing, supplies I never use. If I ask for an openness to the truth of my health and consistently feel a kind of anxiety about how I eat, I can let this commitment to the truth carry me past the desire not to see the truth and ask to see why I am troubled. I may like to collect things, but I may never face the fact that as long as I am in debt I should not be buying anything unnecessary. In Right Judgement, I learn to identify my feelings when I entertain helpful ideas or unhelpful ideas.
Two days ago I knew I needed to get gasoline for my car because I was going to go on a trip the next day. As I got off the freeway to go to a store, I approached a gas station I know well and a voice inside me said that I should go in there right now and get gas. I absolutely, positively did not want to do that. I was tired and sick of errands and obligations and wanted to continue up the street to the last errand and get that over with. I would get gas later (in some vague gas station– who knows where?). This was just a bald case of procrastination. My brain forced me off the road into the gas station. I saw an inner vision of a taller me as a parental figure leaning over me saying, “You will be so messed up tomorrow if you don’t get gas today. You will be yelling at yourself as you pay 20 cents more per gallon for gas in San Francisco!! Go get the d…n gas and quit whining. You will feel so much better.” It is the same inner conversation when calling for a dental appointment, walking the dogs two miles, or setting up my durable power of attorney. I do not want to deal with complications (as if procrastinating on these things will not create any complications!). Right Judgement helps us identify the feelings around the truth versus the feelings prompted by false reasons to do or not do something. With Right Judgement I ask God to send me whatever imagery or feelings will clarify what is His will and what is best for me.
Right Judgement always involves self knowledge. We often choose out of very deep desires and fears. If I recognize that I am in pain over never being noticed in my family, then I will understand why I often get depressed at bigger family gatherings. I will see that I can be quite happy being in the same room with these insensitive people or on a inner tube in a murky river with them if I bond with someone like my sister-in-law or a cousin. With Right Judgement I will begin to see if I regularly surrender appropriate control of life to overbearing people. I might see that I give up on things I want for myself legitimately before I even begin to figure out how I might get them. I will feel the difference between longings I should pursue and guilt or laziness I should ignore.
We can ask for and receive this inner feedback at any time. We may not want to hear or feel the motions of the Spirit versus our own appetites or emotions, but they are there all the same. The more we obey the loving, healthy voice, the easier it gets. Thanks be to God!