I was hurriedly summoned from my desk two weeks ago because my wife (who works with me) had fallen in the school playground and damaged her wrist. Amidst my sympathetic gestures, she happened to ask if her accident had interrupted anything. My reply, ‘This couldn’t have happened at a worse time.’
Factually correct. Truthful. An ethically sound response. But as I discovered (…for quite some time after…) it was the wrong response.
Mother’s Day 2017 presented a very similar dilemma. The children’s failure and consequent disappointment to their mother to make the appropriate fuss on this special day was directed, (rather unfairly I thought), at me. I discovered, (…again for quite some time afterwards…), that ‘appropriately’ re-directing blame with the response, ‘But you’re not my mother,’ did nothing to assuage her annoyance.
Again, I was factually sound…but somehow very, (and I mean VERY) wrong.
The missing ingredient in both these incidents was wisdom.
Facts and truth are important. And morals and ethics are important. But none of these are identical to wisdom.
Wisdom is defined as ‘competency in dealing with the complex realities of life.’ If we want life to go well with us, we need more than facts and truthfulness and a strong moral compass. As important as all these things are, we need wisdom.
Wisdom is not identical to moral goodness and moral values. Even though you can’t attain true wisdom without these, it is possible to be a highly moral and ethical person and get things completely wrong.
In our Australian history the episode of the Stolen Generation is such an example. There were many well-intentioned people in government, in churches, amongst members of the public, who wanted the best for Aboriginal children and earnestly believed that removing them from their birth homes and communities would be the best solution to the problems they faced. They were wrong…dreadfully wrong. Their wisdom was flawed, and despite the best intentions, it wrought terrible consequences.
Similarly, one can make a strong moral/ethical argument for both sides of our current refugee debate, which is probably why it is so contentious. But perhaps the debate is really about ‘wise’ choices rather than moral ones. I don’t have the answers to this problem, but I do wonder if a lack of ‘wisdom’ rather than ‘morality’ is the cause of the impasse?
Christians believe that God has not simply left us with moral and ethical codes in his Word, important though they are. He also teaches us and encourages us to be wise.
Proverbs is the obvious repository of Wisdom literature in the Bible, but Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are all described by theologians as ‘Wisdom Books’ and are helpful in this regard.
The first lesson of Wisdom is to understand that the world is created, with an order to that creation so that, for the most part, the rules of wisdom apply. For example, if you work hard you will get ahead in life. This is a ‘wisdom principle’ that we can generally live by.
However, the second lesson is to understand that the created order is also fallen, and rules which normally apply, will sometimes fail us. Sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you fail to get ahead. But the exception does not negate the general rule.
Knowledge can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. The world is full of evil geniuses. Similarly, as I demonstrated above, without wisdom good ethics can be misguidedly applied to disastrous ends.
For these reasons it is important we don’t confuse knowledge, ethics or morals with wisdom. A ‘clever’ person can be a devil and a ‘good’ person can lack understanding of others and be judgemental and insensitive to their struggles. It is wisdom that makes the difference.
Recently I read, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent” (Proverbs 17:28-29).
…then it struck me…
Prudence…that’s what I lack! When in doubt keep your lips closed!
I have found the wisdom I need for a happy life and a happy wife!!!
That is…until next time….until she asks, ‘Does my bum look too big in this dress?”
Love these reflections Andrew. That particular proverb resonates with me so much, and not because I’ve mastered this particular aspect of wisdom.