Monday, November 16, 2015

A Compelling Case for Quiet Wisdom

I can’t get over the preponderance of noise being produced by our society. I’m not referring to sirens of emergency vehicles racing down the road, jets flying overhead, or even the roar of stock cars thundering around the track at a NASCAR race. It’s the clamor of myriad voices all seemingly shouting, “Look at me! Listen to me! Hey, over here – I’m over here!”

As I noted in a previous post, we’re observing this in increasing decibels as the Presidential primaries and party conventions draw nearer. Listen to any radio talk show, or most TV news networks, and the noise is enough to make anyone want to run out and buy a set of earplugs.

It’s called “cacophony,” which is defined as “dissonance; a hard discordance of sound.” I’d call it an incessant, irritating barrage of sound that’s become so pervasive we ignore it or are barely aware of it anymore. But rather than resulting in a reduced level of noise, it seems many – too many – have concluded they’ve just need to get even louder.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S.
President, could engage in fiery
rhetoric, but endorsed "speaking
softly...and carrying a big stick."
But it’s not just the noise. Because too often the din serves as a strategy for disguising a lack of substance in whatever people claim to be communicating. Kind of like the old-time preacher who counseled a young protégé, “If a point in your sermon is weak, just yell louder.” We’re seeing and hearing a lot of that these days, and not just from pulpits on Sundays.

This is one reason the following verse from the Bible’s Old Testament seemed to jump out when I read it. It speaks not only to how we deliver our words and messages, but also contrasts solid, sincere content with the mindless babbling that assaults our eardrums these days:
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good” (Ecclesiastes 9:17).

This, more than sheer volume, seems the real issue here. Because anyone with healthy lungs and vocal chords can be loud and bombastic and opinionated. But the way wisdom “shouts” is with depth and substance and meaning, not bluster. Once again, it’s the old “when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen” scenario.

Even when Mother Teresa was drawing so much media attention, I don’t recall her posturing from a soapbox. Helen Keller, deaf, blind and mute, was understandably limited as a communicator, and yet she left a treasure chest of wisdom. U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt described his approach to foreign policy as, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” By this he meant, “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis." Sounds kind of like what the Bible calls “the quiet words of the wise.”

The Bible also tells us some of God’s greatest messages were delivered in quiet, inconspicuous ways. Not always in the thunder-and-lightning manner frequently portrayed in films and cartoons.

For instance, speaking to the prophet Elijah, God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks…but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

So whether it’s a coach or athlete in a post-game press conference, a celebrity promoting a favorite cause, a CEO announcing a new product or corporate strategy, a political hopeful stating his or her case in a debate, or a pastor expounding during a worship service, I think we have a compelling reason to listen for quiet wisdom. As Proverbs 16:21 states, “The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.” By comparison, the Bible declares, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). I’ll take the former over the latter any day.

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