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Zen Mind, Bush Mind

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The emergence of George Bush's persona, the decider, has spurred interest in how he renders judgments with absolute certainty. The unique Bush decision-making process is best understood by contrasting it with that of the Zen masters. For the first time, here are the secrets of the Bush master:

Establish the proper environment: The Zen master understands that it's important to surround yourself with harmonious elements, as everything in your environment affects your thinking. On the eve of an important decision the Zen master takes care to ensure that each sense is protected from disturbing influences. He retreats to the Zendo and sits in quiet contemplation, preparing for his decision. Occasionally the Zen master will step into the meditation garden, where the artfully arranged ground cover is designed to remind him of the inner harmony of the universe. The only sounds that break the silence are those of the gently flowing stream, falling leaves, and a songbird.

The Bush master sits alone in the White House TV room. He tightly clutches the remote control as he switches back and forth between Fox news and ESPN. All the while, he's listening to his Ipod, programmed with patriotic country music. Every few minutes, his pager vibrates.

Discipline Your Mind: The Zen master prepares for a decision by letting his mind go blank, attempting to rid himself of preconceptions and pent-up anger. For an hour, he sits in the lotus position, focused on his breathing.

The Bush master doesn't need to empty his mind. Which is fortunate, as he can't sit still longer than five minutes. He disciplines himself by riding his exercise bicycle and raising his pulse rate to 160.

Assemble Decision Material: The Zen master's assistants collect relevant background readings. He carefully studies these, making notes in his meticulous handwriting. First, he reads all the material representing one point of view. When he's finished, he meditates and then writes out his thoughts. Then he reads all the material on the other point of view. Again, when he's finished he meditates on this perspective and then writes out his thoughts. Only when he's carefully considered all the alternatives, does the Zen master read the recommendations from his assistants.

Once the Bush master is warmed up, he goes for a three-mile jog or swims 80 laps in the White House pool. After he cools down, he gets a massage. During this interval, his assistants remind him of the pending decision.

Visualize the Decision Alternatives: The Zen Master returns to the Zendo. He sits in silence and ponders his decision, mulling over the consequences of each alternative. When he feels clear, he summons his assistants.

The Bush master takes a shower. After dressing, he hurries to the oval office, aware that he has only a few minutes to spare before he leaves for a political fundraiser. In the center of his desk is a folder bearing a large yellow stickie, "Must Decide Today." The Bush master picks up the folder, noting with annoyance that it is rather thick. He turns to the executive summary.

Make a Clear Decision: The Zen Master meets with his assistants and tells them of the decision he is inclined to make. Each of his closest associates knows that the Zen Master expects them to voice any disagreements or concerns they may have about his proposed course of action. They feel free to concur or disagree as the spirit moves them. The Zen Master listens attentively and finally, when everyone has spoken, announces his final decision. This may differ from what he initially stated. Regardless, he takes complete responsibility for the decision.

The Bush master asks himself, "What would God do?" and takes a minute to pray. If it's not clear what God wants, the Bush master calls Karl Rove. Then the Bush master summons his assistants into the Oval Office and announces the decision. They unanimously agree that he made the right choice.

Study the Consequences: The Zen Master understands that making decisions is like playing baseball: It's not always possible to hit the ball with the bat and it's not always the case that decisions work out for the best. The Zen Master and his assistants carefully study the results of the decision. If necessary, they take corrective action, even if this means admitting that the original decision was flawed.

The Bush Master views decisions as if they were a football kickoff: once you kick the ball, it's gone, and you need to run off the field as fast as you can to avoid getting hurt. The Bush Master never studies the consequences of his decisions, as doing so would indicate that he might have made a mistake. Being decider-in-chief means never having to say you're sorry.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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