An ancient writer once said, “Who is like the wise man? Who knows the explanation of things? Wisdom brightens a man's face and changes its hard appearance…and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a man's misery weighs heavily upon him. “
How many ‘wise’ leaders do you know? When I was executive pastor of a large church in southern California a prominent internationally renowned church leader visited our church. I asked him what he thought was the biggest problem facing leaders for the foreseeable future. His answer came quickly and consisted of one word - DISCERNMENT!
How does a leader ‘discern’ the right course of action, decide between two equally viable options, be objectively informed by divergent perspectives, suspend their own predispositions and biases to hear different voices, consult their inner convictions, before making a decision? To a great degree, their intuition enlightened by insight, will help them make wise decisions.
In my way of thinking, three levels of insight of increasing complexity are possible and used by leaders to make decisions; the information level, the knowledge level, and the wisdom level.
Many of us are living at the information level which is simply the ordered understanding of raw data. We do not give enough time to reflection leading to comprehension. The tyranny of the urgent, the frenzied activity of our daily lives, and the constant bombardment of data (TV, faxes, newspapers, magazines, Internet, e-mail, radio, audio tapes, videos, podcasts, webinars, superficial conversations, etc.) rob us of an ordered analysis of our world. We operate off of sound bites instead of measured and thoughtful examination.
Many others are stuck at the knowledge level, satisfied with the acquisition and accumulation of information ordered in such a way as to produce an intellectual grasp of the essentials, enough to converse intelligently on the subject but little more. We acquire competencies analyzing data and applying rubrics to tease out nuggets that will hopefully propel us into a preferable outcome or attainment of a sought after goal. The trouble with remaining at this level is that our mental comprehension doesn’t move on to applied wisdom.
We need to move to the wisdom level by prioritizing the acquisition and accumulation of knowledge into wisdom. Wisdom is an internal quality developed over time, established by a congruent belief system, conditioned by a core value system, informed by an integrated worldview, and honed through experience. Learned methods, processes, systems, and strategies are the tools we use but it is wisdom that provides discernment in their application.
For instance, the Internet offers access to information on almost every topic imaginable. Any person can acquire information on a given topic, recast it in their own words, and present the information as if it were their own. When we process that information, comprehend its significance, visualize its application, and apply that knowledge to events, situations, or circumstances we are operating at a knowledge level. Weighing the significance of information, analyzing the specifics of a body of information, synthesizing it with other related information, evaluating the importance of the information, and making informed judgments regarding the utility of the information is operating at a wisdom level.
As an example, in Exodus 20 of the Bible we are exposed to information, the existence of 10 commandments. We develop a knowledge about them when, through study and reflection we comprehend their meaning (i.e., the first 4 commandments address our relationship with God and the remaining 6 commandments address our relationship with others). Knowledge becomes wisdom when we understand the commandment’s implications to us individually and we personally apply them to our lives as we process them through a belief system that has established our values.
In the popular movie, Jurassic Park, the proprietor of the park, John Hammond presides over a lunch with invited guests who have just witnessed the amazing existence of dinosaurs created in a lab and now roaming the grounds. John is being criticized by Malcolm, a skeptic who questions the entire enterprise.
MALCOLM: The problem with scientific power you've used is it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge yourselves, so you don't take the responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you knew what you had, you patented it, packages it, slapped in on a plastic lunch box, and now you want to sell it.
HAMMOND: You don't give us our due credit. Our scientists have done things no one could ever do before.
MALCOLM: Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should. Science can create pesticides, but it can't tell us not to use them. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it can't tell us not to build it!
In summary then, information is the ordered understanding of raw data. Knowledge is meaning derived through study, reflection and comprehension. Wisdom is knowledge applied based on one’s core beliefs and values. There is a vast distance between having a knowledge about something and having a personal knowledge of something. The bridge from one to the other is wisdom.
What level of insight do you employ?
How would your associates view you?
What informs and conditions your thought process?
How discerning are you?
What sources and resources do you use to make decisions?
What ethical system influences your decisions?
To be continued…