Book Review – How good people make tough choices

Book Review – How good people make tough choices


            The process of making decisions is one that everyone engages into on a daily basis. The question is “Are there principles that guide our decision making process? If so, then are they individual or societal principles? Do we strictly follow the principles or are we lax in following them? In the book entitled “How good people make tough choices,” Kidder cautiously but accurately brings out different real life scenarios in which tough decisions have to be made. This book review seeks to discuss the dilemma paradigms and bring out their relevance to the decisions presently made by individuals and institutions.  

Some Quotes from the Book

            Kidder (1995), in his book How good people make tough choices describes good people as those who have articulated specific values to live by. He goes on to say that:

                        “Ethics is the science of morals; and moral are the practice of ethics. It is possible                          to act morally with no ethical understanding and possible to claim to be ethical,                                  while acting immorally.”

Simply put, according to Kidder, morals and ethics are intertwined. The fulfillment of one person is derived from that of another other. Hence, ethics is exercising morals, while morals are the components of ethics. The other quote found in the book is-

                        “The choice lies not between right and wrong but right and right.”

This quote brings out a unique way of looking at morality. The norm has been that ethics is the choice between the correct and incorrect. However, Kidder brings a new version to it, where ethics is the choice one right and the other right. He calls them dilemma paradigms. The other quote that is in the book How good people make tough choices is:

                        “Sound values raise tough choices, and tough choices are not easy.”

True, tough choices are hard to make since they involve making compromises which other people are not ready to make.

Rushworth Kidder’s Contribution

            Kidder has made three major contributions in the arena of ethics through this book. In as much as for a while scholars have known that there are times when making decisions become a dilemma since ‘two rights’ are involved, there has been no documentation to that effect. Kidder brings out the dilemma paradigms: justice versus mercy, truth versus loyalty, individual versus community, and short-term versus long term.          

Justice versus mercy – For instance, what happens when a juvenile is charged with murdering the father? However, investigations reveal that the father had been secretly molesting the boy. The dilemma here is whether to sentence this boy to life imprisonment or death according to law or to take the boy to a rehabilitation centre.

Truth versus loyalty – Sometimes good people face the choice of either to lie to keep a relationship or say the truth and lose the relationship. This is the sure reality of life.

Individual versus community – In making decisions, there are times when there are conflict of interest between personal preferences and the good of the community.

Short-term versus long term – An example of moments when this paradigm applies is say when a husband wants to take his wife on a three-day’s vacation. They are bound to spend a lot within those three days. On the other hand, the children’s fees are unpaid and there is a need for the family to move to a bigger house. In as much as the vacation is not wrong, the option that gives most people more benefit is to avoid the vacation until some time in the future.

Strengths of the Book

            The main strength of the book is that it arms the readers with weapons to help them handle dilemmas that come their way. The book’s other strength is that it draws its case studies on real life situations. This makes the reader to relate to the issues focused on. The book is devoid of ambiguity such that the writer does not leave it to the readers to come up with the best way to make decisions. However, he gives them the principles to go by. The principles are the end-based thinking, rule-based thinking, and care-based thinking.

Weaknesses of the Book

            The weakness of the book is that it focuses more on right versus right and not right versus wrong, which is primarily the focus of ethical codes. Furthermore, the book does not give a definite answer to decision making in tough situations. Instead, it allows individuals to judge for themselves the best action to take. This still leaves an individual in a dilemma. 


            This book is applicable to all persons notwithstanding their age or cadre. It makes people assess their decision-making criteria and make adjustments to them as they deem fit. Ethically, addresses dilemmas that people have had no answers to: right versus right. Clearly, it is a useful guide for making decisions. Every leader needs to read this book. It will boost their efficiency in leadership.


            Kidder’s book is addressed to people in varied careers: political, corporate, and spiritual among others. It strives to enlighten them on how to make decisions by critically assessing the available options. He suggests that the paradigms be applied for better decision making. Consequently, this book is recommended for individuals who desire to make right choices in every area of their lives.


Kidder, M. R. (1995). How good people make tough choices: Resolving the dilemmas of ethical living. 2005 Institute of Global Ethics. New York, USA.