Monday, June 13, 2016

It Doesn't Happen By Accident

From time to time we hear about endangered species – things like butterflies, elephants, rhinos, certain forms of oceanic and plant life. Recently we heard about the controversial shooting and killing of a western lowland silverback gorilla after a little boy somehow entered its enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. We feel protective of endangered species because once the last of their kind is gone, they can’t be recreated.

Which leads me to consider a different type of “endangered species” that appears under assault these days. It doesn’t consist of flesh and blood, or even tiny molecules, but it’s indispensable for life as we have known it. I’m thinking about wisdom.

Like the proverbial wise old owl,
wisdom is hard to find these days.
We’re blessed – or cursed, probably both – with living in an age when information of all kinds has never been so plentiful. I can’t remember the last time I saw a new set of encyclopedias; I’m not sure they’re even produced anymore since they’d be out of date before leaving the printing press. But even with so much information and knowledge literally at our fingertips, there’s no guarantee it will be combined with wisdom.

We hear politicians and celebrities voicing pompous, bombastic comments on all manner of topics, speaking loudly and with conviction. But that doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. We read about corporate executives making key decisions often to the detriment of their customers and companies. One can know much and still be a fool.

Wisdom can be defined as, “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” The key words there, I believe, are “soundness” and “good judgment.” Anyone in a position of authority can issue directives, but can they do so with wisdom, a sense of doing what’s right and best for all concerned?

Unfortunately, we can’t go to the supermarket or our favorite department store, walk down an aisle and purchase wisdom by the quart or the pound. It’s not a commodity. And similar to the endangered species mentioned above, true wisdom increasingly seems in rare supply. So where can we get it?

For starters, it’s not something we stumble upon by accident or suddenly possess after a good night’s sleep. “My, I can’t believe how wise I’ve gotten overnight!” No, the wisest people are often those who actually don’t realize how wise they are – but others do. Some might use other terms for it, like sagacity, keen insight or discernment, but wisdom typically rests with those who have sought after it deliberately.

We can gain wisdom through experience, especially in the aftermath of our mistakes and failure. I say can gain wisdom because some people seem intent on making the same dumb mistakes and rejecting any wisdom they could have gleaned from them. We also can gain wisdom by observing and learning from people we encounter that obviously have it. How do they act? What do they say? What are their perspectives on matters of importance to us?

Then there’s another never-fails source of wisdom: the Word of God. As I’ve noted in my book, Business At Its Best, there’s no more comprehensive source of wisdom and insight for today’s workplace, the home, marriage and family than the Bible. Even if you never read any portion of it besides the book of Proverbs (I’d highly recommend the other 65 books as well), you’d still find more wisdom than you’ll ever find in any college classroom or corporate boardroom.

It tells us the quest for wisdom should be intentional. No one accumulates wisdom by accident. "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding...then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:1-5).

Another passage says we should pursue wisdom for our own good. “He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers” (Proverbs 19:8).

And it assures us that if we desire to become wise, we’d better resolve to hang out with people that already have it. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20). The book of wisdom also admonishes, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

Just as we can’t expect to become healthy in a quarantined hospital room, or acquire a strong work ethic from people lacking initiative, we’ll not find wisdom by associating with foolish folks. “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” (Proverbs 14:8).

Do you – or someone you know – want to be wise? We won’t find it by sitting under a tree hoping it will bonk us on the head. We need to go after it, searching for it in places and with people where it’s in ample supply. Then we’ll discover its benefits: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Proverbs 24:15-16).

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