Having a net worth of nearly two billion dollars, American investor Howard Marks is a fan of poker and other games that combine skill and chance. He writes an occasional investment letter and in a recent one talks about what he’s learned from reading Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Annie Duke has won over four million dollars in professional poker, so she knows a little bit about making quick decisions without always having all the desired information.
Marks uses Duke’s insights to come up with a few conclusions for investing that are also true for dealing with toxic people.
First and most importantly, “You can’t tell the quality of a decision from the outcome.” You can make a wise and reasoned decision with someone and even respond in the perfect way, but the relationship, office situation, family dynamics, or marital issues may still “blow up.” That doesn’t mean you made a bad decision, however. Toxic or evil people don’t always respond to life-giving truth in a healthy way. In fact, they rarely do.
In When to Walk Away, I mention how God’s decision to have the incarnate Jesus born into this world eventually led to the “slaughter of the innocents” as Herod tried to prevent the Messiah from growing up. Herod ordered all boys around Bethlehem two years old and younger to be murdered. Was this God’s fault? Should he have anticipated it and decided to forgo the incarnation? Of course not. God made a wise and good decision; an evil man responded to that good and wise decision in an evil way and acted wickedly.
I could have also cited how after God delivers Peter from prison in Acts 12 (A.D. 41) by having an angel wake Peter up and walk him past two guard posts, Herod commanded that all the guards (sixteen in all) be tortured and then put to death (Acts 12:19). The supernatural deliverance of one disciple led to the torture and murder of sixteen Roman soldiers. Does that mean God should have allowed an early leader of the church to be murdered before his time of ministry was up, just to prevent the deaths of sixteen others?
Looking through the long-term lens of church history and God’s work on this earth, having Jesus be born and delivering Peter from prison were both good, wise and life-giving decisions for God to make—even though both of those acts resulted in the deaths of dozens of “innocent” people. An evil response to a loving decision doesn’t make the loving decision wrong. It just demonstrates that we live in a fallen world.
There’s another aspect to dealing with toxic people, however. Annie Duke points out that when you make a good decision between two unappealing choices, the situation isn’t likely to turn out well regardless. Toxic people can act in such a toxic manner that there isn’t a solution available in which nobody gets hurt or angry. And sometimes the situation/relationship can be so toxic that the best even a skillful surgeon can do is try to limit the damage. That doesn’t mean you made a bad decision; it just means you were forced to confront an awful situation as wisely as possible.
Here’s today’s message in a nutshell: when dealing with toxic people you might make a good and wise decision that honors God and yet you may still be fired, slandered, or even divorced. In a fallen world, a wise process doesn’t always lead to a pleasant or even “victorious” outcome. Toxic people have a tendency to take their “pound of flesh” even as they are stymied and confronted.
What I want to do with this short post is remove the guilt some of you may have because you employed the Scriptures and advice from When to Walk Away: Finding Freedom From Toxic People and the relationship/office environment/church setting wasn’t “fixed.” That doesn’t mean you messed up. It doesn’t mean that if you had made a different decision or said something different things would have turned out better. In fact, things may well have turned out much worse. Plus, you can’t know if your healthy response will eventually be used to bring conviction to the person in question somewhere down the road (maybe even after you’re gone).
There are no guarantees when we’re forced to relate to toxic people. We can and should be wise and loving with every decision, but we can’t always “fix” the immediate worlds we live in. Learn how to own and live with the process, not the outcome.