Cost-benefit analysis

I’ve always wanted to write authoritatively about that phrase, “cost-benefit analysis.”  There are other phrases, too, of course, like gifted banjo player, best-selling author, sought-after inspirational speaker, and retired sky-diver.  All have a common element — I haven’t really invested much time or energy into any of them.  I’ve picked a little at the banjo.  I’ve written mainly for personal therapy and reflection.  I did manage to sneak a chapter in the book of some colleagues as contributing author and learned about the publishing business.  Really not much in it for contributing authors, if you were wondering. I have been the orator of choice several times (last choice, I think).  And to be a retired sky-diver I would first have to be a sky-diver, which brings me back to cost-benefit analysis.

Apparently the concept behind cost-benefit analysis is that a reasonable person will pull together sufficient data to weigh various options for action.  Then, based on that, select the action with the lowest cost and highest benefit and proceed in that direction.

So, cost-benefit analysis is a primary tool for people mired in conflict or plagued by tough decisions.  Yet, many people in conflict — particularly personal conflict (and almost all of it has an element of personal conflict) — aren’t reasonable.  Putting that tool in the hands of these people has been an important role for friends, mediators, ministers, counselors, and co-workers.

I’m pretty good at recommending cost-benefit analysis to people at my peace table.  In fact, I’ve been downright smug about it.  Thinking about my personal experiences with conflict, I’ve come to realize that the obvious wisdom of choosing the lowest-cost, highest-benefit option is often beyond my grasp in a moment of desperation.  And is, perhaps, not wise at all.

As I wrote about the price of reconciliation in an earlier entry, I was contemplating the idea of cost and benefit.  I suggested that the price tag attached to the neck of the conflict was loss of power.  In a moment of high anxiety, many can’t see beyond this “retail” price.

I’m not an economist (although I know one who has successfully forecast 10 of the last 2 recessions) and I’m not a finance guy.  But I would think that cost and benefit are far more complex than they seem.

I’m discovering that I can’t ask someone to consider the cost of reconciliation and assume that they understand the corresponding benefit.  Although it is the hope of that benefit that drives them to my mediation table, the cost analysis is often too daunting.

For many, reconciliation seems to require concession or absolute surrender to the other person.  Thus, the perception that the loss of power is the price of reconciliation.

When people of faith are at my table, I’m learning to point them to a “third party” transaction.  What if we conceded or (and this is revolutionary) absolutely surrendered to God before we come to the table?  Truth is, if we all did this, mediators would be out of work.  Most believers readily acknowledge their desire to reconcile with God.  Most would, however, also point out the difficulty of achieving that from our human perspective.

When we begin to see that God is providing us with ample opportunity to learn about reconciliation with others that we begin to understand that reconciliation with him is right before us.  In fact, he has offered to pay the “retail” price for that reconciliation.

While lowest-cost, highest benefit is a great business model and a rational path, I’m learning that highest-cost, highest benefit is a more godly way for believers.  The problem of high cost obscuring the benefit is still present.  That’s why those who stand by can best counsel by pointing to the benefits.  And by sharing words written by those who have concentrated less on understanding God’s mind and more on learning his heart:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on God’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (TNIV).

We can’t truly measure the costs until we fully appreciate the benefits.  If the price of reconciliation is too high for you, what will be your burden for the loss of the benefit?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “Cost-benefit analysis

  1. I’m afraid we miss much in the cost-benefit analysis by not being able to accurately value the intangibles in conflict. While engaged in conflict, it is difficult to see past the immediate situation and to project long term what the return on the investment will be. To borrow a weight-loss idiom, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” While there are times for tangible rewards as part of settling a dispute, no award tastes as good as reconciliation feels.

  2. And, if reconciliation is the core truth of the Gospel, then the continuing act of reconciliation is an elongated moment of faith. The piece most missing from relationships in conflict is trust. Our unwillingness to release and reconcile stems not only from our lack of trust in others, but our shallow faith in God. An over-simplified statement perhaps, but nonetheless convicting.

    I’ll want to come back and open a conversation about healthy management of conflict soon — after we look a little more about this decision-making piece. As you know, compromise and acquiescence aren’t the only answers.

  3. My issue with CBA is that you can only hope the benefit comes to fruition. It’s not guaranteed. The process is good because it causes us to explore as many options as possible, but that the benefit will actually outweigh the cost….well, that’s a gamble.

  4. Doug, I like where you’re going with that. The “cost” must always be worth it, even if the benefit is shaky. Barring destructive co-dependent behavior, it becomes evident that “it is always our turn” to seek reconciliation, isn’t it?

Comments are closed.