Informed, Yet Unwise: Why We Are Overloaded With Information But Lacking Wisdom
Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice. (Proverbs 1:20)
She is as old as time, or at least as old as God. You will find her at funerals if you look for her. Weddings, too. And hospital rooms and some churches. She will not be rushed, or microwaved, or multitasked. You will not meet her when you're frantic, distracted, or proud.
Her name is wisdom.
There is an extreme arrogance about this generation. I'm not singling out millennials, I am talking about everyone alive today - myself included. We think we’re the smartest people to ever live and that we’ve evolved into the upper echelon of humanity. But we’re still eating Tide Pods. We’re overweight and unhealthy. A large majority of people will forsake their marriage to stay up late and look at naked people on their computer. We drink depressants to make us happy.
We're a mess, just like our ancestors. We just have different plagues and struggles.
You see, we live by this assumption that information equates to wisdom. We think we can use our minds to make moral decisions and to reason ourselves into flourishing cultures. That sounds really good, especially when the person saying it has cool glasses and an interesting resume. But the truth is, it's not true.
We don't make decisions by weighing the pros and cons and rationalizing what will be the most efficient and advantageous path forward. No, we make decisions based on emotion. And that is not a bad thing - it just is what it is. We make most life decisions from a little almond-sized piece of our brain called the amygdala, which is the emotional center of our brains.
We are emotional creatures. Even the tendency to try to look smart and purely intellectual is, itself, an emotional endeavor. You are saying look at me, world. I'm smart. You want to be accepted.
There are professors who can barely tie their shoes. They'll explain algorithms and theories, but they don't know how to have a conversation. But it isn't just professors, it's all of us. We have nearly infinite information at our fingertips thanks to the internet. We can learn anything about anything, and yet we still struggle. At least I do.
We lack wisdom. Because we are so caught up in the immediate, in the pings and notifications and meetings and on and on, we do not marinate on truth. Wisdom is acquired slowly, like a drip. It takes time. But wisdom is not osmotic. Being old doesn't automatically make you wise.
Being curious does.
Being humble does.
Being patient does.
Wait a minute. Aren't curiosity, humility, and patience virtues of wisdom? Is the cart before the horse here? We can't act wise before we're wise so we can get more wise - right?
A curious/humble/patient approach is a choice. It is a posture. Let's call this the wisdom posture. It is the posture that Jesus took when he reasoned with the Jewish spiritual leaders as he grew up. He reasoned, turned thoughts over in his mind, and had good conversations. He asked questions.
The wisdom posture is a way of seeing the world in which we start with our lowliness, meaning we start the day knowing we have something to learn. From there, we go on a treasure hunt for truth: Scripture, podcasts, books, people, children, hummingbirds. Look around and allow yourself to learn.
The truth of the matter is that the wisdom posture isn't for everyone. Remember the amygdala? Many people are into maximum pain/effort avoidance. That's their goal. Or their ego is too fragile to set aside to allow for learning. But we aren't talking about them - we're talking about you and me - about us.
As for me, I don't want to go through life distracted and overstuffed with information and stimulus. I don't want to eat six tons of Doritos, I want to eat the proper helping of the food that nourishes me. I want my soul to hang around the fountainhead of wisdom like a drunk hangs around a bar. I literally want to be addicted to wisdom.
Years ago I was bothered by the whole concept of wisdom. I wasn't sure what it was. Was it the works of the stoics? I found it while sitting in a hotel room on a business trip. I opened my Bible and read:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
If God is omniscient and made this place we call the world, surely he knows everything about it. And if he had made it and hailed a cosmic Uber for another galaxy, that would be one thing. But he hung around, and still hangs around. And he gave us this magical (and I mean magical) book called the Bible. It is poetry and instruction and guidance and literature. It is truth.
Let me put a bow on this.
We make decisions based on emotion, and our emotions tend to be rooted in our self-interest (what makes us happy or healthy or whatever). And we have established that wisdom is slow, and that because the rapidity of our culture, we don't often sit still enough to marinate on truth. And, as for me, the source of truth is God's truth - which is broadcast on maple leaves and sunrises and out of the mouths of other people. And this truth is explicitly written in ink in my Bible.
Thus, one of the healthiest ways to cultivate wisdom is to sit with the truth of Scripture and let it sink into my soul. I think we need to start there. But once we establish a wisdom posture, we'll see that while the Bible has no equal in terms of wisdom content, all truth is God's truth. That is, if it's true it's true. We don't have to isolate ourselves to Christian ideological circles and groupthink ourselves into homogeneity. We can, as Jesus did (and with his help), go out into the world and hang out with people. We can learn and grow from all kinds of people. And if we have a foundation of Biblical truth, we have a way to ground ourselves and a home to return to.
Slow down. Listen. Learn. Grow.