WISDOM AND INSIGHT part 1 of 3

Twin Towers smokingWisdom and insight go together like soup and water. Here’s what I mean. Everyone remembers those terrible images on television of the Twin Towers smoldering and collapsing in clouds of dust. We gaped not just because of the shock but because we did not know why that extraordinary thing had happened. We all wanted to know why. Of course we gape at all sorts of dramatic events, as, for instance, when seeing a bad car wreck or a capsized ferry or special police units surrounding a high school campus. We gape. But we also ask why.

When I was working in Massachusetts many years ago near an old warehouse district, I stood transfixed watching a massive four-story warehouse – it covered nearly an entire square block – become engulfed in flames and burn to the ground. I had never seen such a huge, out-of-control fire, and neither had the dozens of other gawkers who were watching it burn. But we we not just gaping at the sight. We were also trying to find out why it was burning. We even asked the cops and some fire personnel. We wanted to know.

It was many years before I understood what is really going on in us at such times. We ask questions about the experience because we want to know about it in a special way. That is, we want insight. And insight comes from asking questions about an experience, especially one that is new to us or exceptional. Insight is what we want when we hear that a friend has divorced or that the stock market has plunged or that our CEO is under federal investigation. We want insight, so we ask why.

Insight is what everyone one in America wanted on September 11, 2001, everyone from the president on down. No one knew why two passenger jets full of human beings and plenty of fuel had disappeared with a metallic burr into the Twin Towers and never came out. Why?

The president, his staff, and his political and military advisers, of course, were asking questions, questions, and still more questions, because they needed to arrive at clear judgments in order to make decisions – official decisions that would have far-reaching ramifications for the country.

Further, clear judgments, especially for responding to complex exceptional events or experiences, are not possible without gaining insights into insight, so to speak. And to get those you must ask questions about the initial insights. As David Ford once explained to me, you’re checking out your initial insight with more questions leading to additional insight in order to arrive at a wise judgment for making a decision. And wisdom is precisely the point. You need wisdom, and wisdom emerges with insight.

All of this is by way of introducing what I want us to consider next. In the Hebrew Bible insight is as inseparable from wisdom as a river is from water. In the next post, then, we will begin looking at this fifth norm of wisdom, the norm of insight. So far on this blog many posts have discussed and illustrated four other wisdom norms, what I call the norms of peaceableness, relations, mutuality, and skill. The wisdom norm of insight is the final one we will consider. All five norms are vital to the foundation I am attempting to lay about (1) the ancient sages wisdom-based way of reasoning and (2) its relevance for international relations and foreign policy decision making today. I hope to finish (1) soon because I am psyched to post about (2).

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Globovision (Permission via Creative Commons)

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