Monday, April 25, 2016

Brain Power: Separate, or Shared?

One of the most profound statements I ever heard is, “Not one of us is as smart as all of us.” Ponder that for a moment.

Today we’re inclined to celebrate independence and individuality, and on the surface there’s nothing wrong with that. Every one of us is unique and there’s no reason we should be squeezed into someone else’s mold. However, we tend to ignore, overlook or underestimate the power of synergy, the collective impact of complementary gifts and talents, intelligence and different points of view.

I saw this demonstrated repeatedly during my years as a newspaper and magazine editor. Writers, editors, photographers and designers all contributed their parts for producing each publication – every time the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. The finished product was always better than I could have imagined, especially if I had tried to do it all myself – or if only people with skill sets matching mine had been involved.

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, apparently had found this to be true as well. He stated, “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” I agree. Long ago I concluded I don’t know it all – although occasionally I might act as if I think otherwise. But it’s true. None of us knows it all, or even close. So I’ve been grateful for many opportunities to bounce ideas off others and get their perspectives, as well as reap some of the wisdom and experience of people who’ve wrestled with the same issues that I have.

A spiritual principle behind this can be traced to the beginnings of creation. When God declared, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), He wasn’t referring just to companionship. Throughout the Scriptures we see people working in tandem. Some of the greatest failures recorded in the Bible involved people who determined to operate in isolation. Cain, who killed his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy, King Saul, and Judas Iscariot are just three case studies.

To avoid the often-tragic consequences of wrong thinking and poor decision-making in solitude, we’re encouraged to do as President Wilson suggested: “use all the brains…that I can borrow.” Proverbs 27:9 states it this way: Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”

A bit later in the same chapter we find this principle presented from a slightly different angle: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I’ve found this particularly important for spiritual growth – often called discipling, discipleship, or even mentoring.

Early in my life I struggled with trying to understand how to apply biblical teachings and integrate my faith into my everyday life, especially at work. Thankfully over the years I encountered many people who faithfully strived to follow Jesus’ admonition to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). They became living examples of faith in action.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly surrounded Himself with other people, prompting many lively interactions. Then Barnabas was instrumental in the life of the apostle Paul after his conversion and during the early years of his spiritual growth and ministry. Paul wrote of how highly he valued not only camaraderie, but also mutual support and encouragement from other men like Silas, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.

He even commended John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin, whom at one time had been written off as being unworthy to be involved in the work of the Gospel. Later Paul welcomed Mark back into the fellowship. “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry”  (2 Timothy 4:11). This one-time outcast proceeded to become the author of the gospel of Mark.

In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul emphasized the importance of hanging out with like-minded people and passing along what was learned in the process: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”

So whether we’re collaborating with colleagues at work, undertaking a project at home or in the neighborhood, or trying to resolve a personal challenge, it’s wise to always remember that not one of us is as smart as all of us. It’s not a sin to pool brainpower.

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