One “Comfortable” Opposite of Wisdom?

This is a repost of a “thinking out loud” therapeutic post from 2012.

I’ve been reflecting this past month on ‘wisdom’ and what it looks like in everyday life.  The importance of wisdom seemed to pop up often – during various meetings where the future seemed unclear, while parenting teenaged children, and in my reading.  Wisdom’s value seems obvious.  It’s what separates people, yet it seems to be a rare commodity. Troll through the Internet, watch the news, or listen to people talk at your local gathering place and you’ll find anything but wisdom at work.

I think our society, and even those of us in ministry at times, values something I call “reactionary pragmatism.”  Reactionary pragmatism reacts to the what comes our way each day, and elevates “what works” over “what’s best.” I’ve been developing this idea lately and its implications in leadership and youth ministry.

Every political season reveals this cultural tendency for reactionary pragmatism.  Maybe it’s my moderate stance, but I am always surprised by the amount of emotion from either side, in union with an unwillingness to listen/consider other perspectives.  Candidates react to what works best for their party’s purposes. And yet those party purposes may quiet us from engaging in a more necessary (and wise) conversation about what’s best for our country (and please read this with a lean toward economics).

Being pragmatic and a bit reactionary is not always bad when it comes to leadership practice, but they can be deadly if it grows beyond a practice and becomes our guiding value for all that we do – especially in church circles. We can easily lose our bearings in two ways:  1)  What attracts more people and 2) What helps the bottom-line. And we end up fighting for positions that may be more cultural and less theological.

Our market-driven economy and social media world values what attracts.  If we gain followers or attendees and develop ‘influence,’ then we must be on the right track.  Because it’s what works – and if it works it must be right.  And we, along the way, have reacted to market research to make sure we write/say what attracts more people.  And we trust that if people buy/follow, then it must mean something to them. Education has changed because of market influences. So have Sunday mornings in the local church. So has blogging. It’s all about attraction.

The other pragmatic concerns we have is the bottom-line:  What helps us financially is what we pursue. We see this struggle as well in local churches and in our educational system.  We make decisions based on the ledger and not on any guiding philosophy of what a community of believers or learners ought to be like and do.  We look at our economic forecast and let that shape the curriculum for our students with the goal of what helps them make more money (versus what creates better educated citizens). This isn’t a new cycle for humanity, though – certainly the arts and education and Christianity have been shaped by commerce in previous generations.

While reading Proverbs 9 recently, I was struck by two words the NIV translators used to describe Wisdom’s opposite, “Folly”, in verse 13:  undisciplined and without knowledge. I was struck that these are two characteristics of current pop culture, a culture that, like all others before it, is drawn toward Folly over Wisdom.

Currently, our culture is drawn to reality television, YouTube, and sound-byte articles while avoiding outlets that push and deepen our knowledge. Teens ridicule high school as ‘pointless’ and something they won’t use later in life yet sit in front of video games and homemade movies that others put on the Internet for hours each week.  Of course, I’m pushing the point a bit here with some hyperbole. But I’m close.

I was personally challenged in my own life as I reflected on the first three months of this year:  Where had I grown in my knowledge?  In what ways did my disciplined nature allow me to accomplish some long-standing goal?  Neither answer made me happy.  I ‘got the job done’ each day, sure. I read off my To-Do list and clicked them off.  But I was still in the same spot that I was three months ago on most of my priorities for the year.

So, I made a series of adjustments to my life recently and committed to the big rocks again, not in a ‘try harder’ way to get stuff done (the rocks are all tasks), but do so in a space-creating way to address the tyranny of the urgent and instill what is beautiful and best again.  Here’s a simple checklist of big rocks I will make time for each day this month.  You may consider for yourself as well:

  1. Spiritual readings, Bible reading, and prayer.
  2. Reflection time. (Doing my “morning pages” and being still)
  3. Daily writing. (Making sure the project at hand moves forward a full step)
  4. Focused listening to others.
  5. Purposeful reading of material that matters.
  6. Exercise (CrossFit)
  7. Good nutrition (drinking less coffee and more water)
  8. Healthy sleep patterns.

In the same way that I did these eight in 2012, they’ve helped me again here in 2015. I must be on some cycle. The bigger issue is that the same pattern existed again – an end-of-year evaluation followed by a renewal to disciplined practices in the new year. This year, perhaps I can be more consistent with these eight.

What have been your renewal practices? What are ways you’ve been pursuing wisdom?

Oh, and here’s the devotional book I’ve been using every week since 1996. I can’t recommend it enough:

  • Stephen

    I think in a few years we’ll see a wider appreciation of wisdom in society. As you’ve said, the pendulum has swung far to the side of “what’s popular is good” rather than “what’s worthwhile (i.e. wise) is good”.

    I think the contest for popularity will continue for the next few years, at which stage there’ll be some kind of tipping point. There will be ever more ridiculous and negative examples of both celebrities and everyday people acting in an undisciplined way and without knowledge. The media will seize on this and in turn blow it out of proportion, but it will serve to make wisdom more valued in society.

    This will just be the pendulum swinging the other way. After a number of years, wisdom will become boring and popularity, undiscipline and having no regard for knowledge will once again be the order of the day.

    I see the same thing in politics. Democrats take over from Republicans, as wider society gets tired of the pendulum swinging so far to the right. After 8 years, the pendulum has swung more to the left than wider society likes, so Republicans get back in. Meanwhile, the majority of us in the center have to listen to the crazy talk from both the left and right extremes and decide which will (hopefully) bring a little more balance.

    There’s nothing new under the sun…….

  • Brittany Weaver Hartman

    Haha, yep, nothing new under the sun. The political part of the post didn’t resonate with me, which is rare because deep down, I enjoy politics.
    The night before you posted this, my insomnia got the best of me and I was contemplating the testimony theme we’ve had at church lately, and more specifically, the influential people/things in my life… Then the next day you summed it up… wisdom. The people that came to mind weren’t peers, they were all probably a decade or more my senior… people that have had the benefit of time and experience. But even more than that, they are people that have amazing grace in the way they go about their own lives and how they influence others. Giving time. investing… the utter and complete opposite of living in a way that’s always reacting… A totally different pace. I really feel that I’m in the season of my life where I’m still soaking that up, maybe because I was really behind getting there to start with. Great post, and I can only really even digest a little bit.