In a world of disinformation, misinformation, mass-formation, click-bait, and soundbites how are we to know what to believe or respond?
How are we to navigate challenging conversations? How are we to create real solutions for seemingly impossible problems? The majority of real and lasting solutions to problems are created locally, not by distant institutions or bureaucracies. You and I are responsible for bringing solutions in our own spheres.
Now more than ever, we need Wisdom and Cultural Intelligence. How?
Let’s begin with wisdom.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Wisdom is defined as;
a : ability to discern inner qualities and relationships : insight
b : good sense : judgement
c : generally accepted belief
d : accumulated philosophical or scientific learning : knowledge
The world defines wisdom as a proper application of knowledge, or judgement.
While that definition is helpful, a theological definition brings a fuller vision of wisdom into view. Michael S. Craven defines wisdom as an “ancient virtue.” He develops it further by stating, “Wisdom is an ability, it’s a skill. It’s the ability to discern what is good, true and beautiful.“
Wisdom is not the same as education or knowledge.
Wisdom is not attained through academic or intellectual pursuits. Wisdom and its opposite folly (or foolishness) are moral categories. No amount of education can make one wise. Wisdom can’t be learned by just reading books or listening to lectures. Those are just means of transferring information. By all means, we should all read and learn. However, we should not confuse academic knowledge with wisdom.
We all know wise people who do not have a college degree or who barely finished high school. Think of that older lady or gentleman in your life who may not have a formal education but, they are extremely wise. You seek out their advice and act on it, right?
On the same token, we all know foolish people who have degrees from the finest universities. They’ve attained the highest levels of knowledge but they are foolish. Think of professionals, CEOs, doctors, heads of state, attorneys, and the like who make foolish decisions and end up in jail or on the front page of the paper. Would you seek out their advice?
In our modern culture, we falsely believe we can educate people into being moral and wise citizens. Highly educated people are not necessarily wise people. In fact, education devoid of morality and the virtue of wisdom can create morally empty monsters (fools). They use their academic knowledge for ill. Today, we educate a man without cultivating virtue in him. Thus, we give him more advanced and sinister devices to commit evil.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “A man who has never gone to school may steal a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
“Biblical wisdom is deep, immeasurable, priceless, and rare.” (Dr. Michael A. Milton)
My working definition of Wisdom.
Wisdom begins with the fear of God. Wisdom is the art and virtue of living one’s life by applying understanding of God’s moral commands. It is the active application of knowledge, understanding, and discernment to everyday life. It leads to answering the deeper questions of life. Wisdom is designed to be passed down to future generations. In fact, not transmitting wisdom to the young is foolishness.
What is the purpose of wisdom?
Wisdom brings the individual in line with reality as God created it. It aligns the one who attains wisdom with God’s commands. The result is a rich and meaningful life that brings a ‘moral good’ into the culture.
It begs the question, “Do I want my children and grand children to live wisely or foolishly?” If I hope for the former, then it is my responsibility to transmit wisdom to them. It is their responsibility to apply wisdom and live accordingly.
Without going into too, much detail, I’ll give you my working definition. Cultural Intelligence is the understanding of the place, time, people, and movements of a current moment. It combines a kind of a cultural situational awareness with an understanding of historical antecedents, current reality, and ability to extrapolate where society is heading. Cultural Intelligence is the ability to draw the cords of the past, present, and future in order to understand how to respond. In other words, Cultural Intelligence is understanding the times in order to respond properly.
To be culturally astute, one must understand the assumptions and sub-currents that shape current reality. This affects how we think of ourselves in relationship with others and the world around us.
How does one cultivate Cultural Intelligence?
It requires effort. Reading books, news papers and blogs, watching forms of media, and such is required. The objective is to posess a general understanding of how an issue became an issue. Reading primary sources and counter-perspectives is vital to Cultural Intelligence. Understanding where and why people disagree is clarifying and helps our critical thinking. Talking to others who are either experiencing something or have a good working knowledge of an issue is important as well.
For instance, the suicide rate among teenagers and young adults has risen significantly in the last three years in America. Why? What set the preconditions for this to occur? What are the root causes of the current suicide crisis? Simple, one answer conclusions rarely reveal the root cause. We must dig deeper. When we do, we often discover a confluence of movements, events, sub-currents, and philosophies leading to the current moment. The massive uptick in suicides did not just appear out of thin air. We’re seeing the emergence of an issue that is decades in the making.
The Tsunami Example
An analogy may be helpful. A tsunami is created by the shift of tectonic plates deep with in the earth (or volcano). That shift generates an earthquake. The movement from the quake displaces water deep beneath the ocean’s surface. It transfers energy from land to water. As the energy moves through the ocean, it creates a wave. That wave undetectable on the surface until it approaches shallows. By the time it crashes on the shore, they tsunami can be a hundred feet tall and move at 20-30 mph (NOAA). It only takes one foot of water moving at these speeds to carry away vehicles and destroy buildings. Remember the tsunami that struck Indonesia in 2004? It was devastating.
So, the suicide epidemic in America is much like a tsunami. In order to solve it, we must understand how it came to be – it’s root causes. This is where Cultural Intelligence comes in.
The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to cultivate Cultural Intelligence. You just need to be open-minded, a critical thinker, and willing to accept facts as they are. You have to be willing to learn from history and explore deeper understanding. Often times, that will require conversations with people who are very different from you. That’s the exciting part!
Combining Wisdom and Cultural Intelligence
In the final analysis, cultivating Wisdom and developing greater Cultural Intelligence will help you understand the time and place you live, along with the people who inhabit the world with you. We live in a world of massive institutional programs and one-size-fits-all solutions pushed by governments and corporations. Wisdom and Cultural Intelligence will help you bring meaningful solutions that are localized to your community. The majority of real and lasting solutions for social problems are created locally, not by distant institutions or bureaucracies. At the end of the day, you and I are the ones responsible for bringing solutions to the problems we face.
Wisdom and Cultural Intelligence are necessary now more than ever. Below are some resources to help you on your quest!