Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right,
to understand what life means and where it’s going;
A manual for living,
for learning what’s right and just and fair;
To teach the inexperienced the ropes
and give our young people a grasp on reality.
There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,
still a thing or two for the experienced to learn—
Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate,
the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women. Proverbs 1:2-5 (The Message)
Have you ever thought about what the difference is between being smart and being wise? Maybe, if you have as much gray hair as me, you have seen the difference first hand.
Ole Solomon was a pretty bright guy in my book– he is credited as writing the wisdom literature including Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The latter is one of my favorite books in scripture. It has nuggets and insights packed away that are timeless.
So, what’s the difference between being smart or wise. To me, I know a lot of people who are very smart, but I wouldn’t say they are wise. The French have a phrase which is appropriate to mention: savoir faire It means knowing what to do in any situation or having an instinctive sense of doing the right thing at the right time.
Not everyone has savoir faire in all situations, myself included. I know smart people who don’t have savoir faire in any situation. In the Proverbs 1 passage, Solomon says that even seasoned men and women can learn a new thing or two and get fresh wisdom to “probe and penetrate the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women.”
Years ago (I won’t say how many) when I graduated from law school, our commencement speaker was Albert Coates, a distinguished law professor. In his address, he gave a homily which gives a clue to the answer of the difference between smart and wise. He spoke about a farmer in Orange County who had encountered a difficult problem and solved it in a very ingenious way.
When Albert commended the farmer’s solution of the problem, the farmer said: “Well, Albert, those of us who don’t have book sense sometimes just have to use our heads.” Wow. I just spent three years learning “the law” and am now told that I have to use my head, too.
I remembered that homily throughout my 45 years of law practice. Success in the legal profession, is not just knowing “the law”, but to understand how to apply it to the benefit of one’s clients. Anyone can learn “the law” or other information, but good ones develop the ability on how to best apply it.
You may recall that wisdom is one of the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. James also addresses it in James 1:5; “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
I love the James passage because of the phrase “without finding fault.” It demonstrates what grace is all about. Unmerited favor. No one “deserves” to be wise, or to be anything else, for that matter. That’s a good thing.
The topic of wisdom is ripe for today. The next generation is looking for the older generation to spend time with them – build a relationship of trust – and then be a sounding board for their lives and life issues.
Wisdom is a product of experience. For those with gray hair, not all our experiences were good ones, but we learned something from them just the same.
Having knowledge is fine, but if you can’t use it correctly, then it isn’t much benefit. Will Rogers (1879-1935) said it this way: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
The impact of social media and the overuse of digital media by the next generation is getting scary and worrisome. Looking over my posts over the last 18 months, I’ve tried to connect the dots of the trends of the next generation with the results.
Given that the next generation spends an average of 6 to 8 hours a day digitally, it is clear to me that an intervention by parents and mentors may be needed to stop the damage.
I see is declining intelligence due to overuse of smartphones. The statistics are in black and white – they are in my previous post (Dumb and Dumber), and I won’t repeat them.
This is not just a North American phenomenon – I have friends around the world who have seen the same thing happen to their young adults who are overly connected digitally.
The next generation is not absorbing knowledge, information or facts, but relying on their digital devices for answers. Or, even worse, they rely on their peers. In the latter case, it is the blind leading the blind, because their peers aren’t any better off intellectually.
One of the newer mental health disorders is called the Google Effect. I discussed it in my post entitled Digital Dark Side (March 6, 2017). The Google Effect is descriptive of a condition where our brains are losing the ability to retain facts or information.
Research now shows that the ability to have all information at our fingertips from the beginning of civilization is altering our brain functions and the ability to retain information. The retention of information is knowledge. If you can’t retain information, you have limited knowledge (even if you can look it up).
The result: the next generation cannot think critically. Their lack of reading because of the encroachment of the digital age is very concerning. Peggy Noonan, in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, said this: “If you can’t read deeply you will not be able to think deeply. If you can’t think deeply you will not be able to lead well, or report well.”
According to Barna Research, the statistics bear this out. Close to a third (33%) of millennials report they have read zero books.
I recently helped a pastor file for a tax exemption for his church. He was formerly the youth pastor at a larger church. As we were talking, he confirmed that the youth today are having difficulty understanding or thinking through scripture. That leads to the question: How do you teach a biblical world view to this next generation who cannot think critically?
Critical thinking is a necessity for tomorrow’s leaders. If the analysis of an issue is based on limited knowledge and limited depth of thinking, one must wonder where we are going.
Right now, a missing component of the next generation is that their judgment is being formed on very shallow information without much thought or consideration. The Beloit College Mindset List (2021) is published annually reflecting attitudes of incoming freshman to college. This years’ list includes the following:
“Once on campus, they will find that college syllabi, replete with policies about disability, non-discrimination, and learning goals, might be longer than some of their reading assignments.”
How do you achieve wisdom where knowledge is just a millimeter deep? Wisdom goes hand in hand with critical thinking.
Albert Einstein is quoted in one of my favorite quotes: “You cannot solve your problems with the same thinking that created them.” Mentors already are armed with experience and a different perspective to help the mentee arrive at the best solution.
I recently challenged the men in a bible study that I attend on Friday mornings. There were well over 75 in the room. I said: “The collective wisdom in the room is massive, but it does no good if you are not willing to pass it on to the next generation.”
I often tell my mentees that it is a lot easier and less painful to learn from the mistakes of others, and since I have made 100’s of them, I’ve got a lot to share.
The mentor’s role is not to teach the mentee what to think. A mentor’s role is to help the mentee learn how to think. How to analyze an issue or provide a fresh perspective. Analysis involves critical thinking which is losing ground in this digital culture.
If the next generation is not learning from reading, nor doing any critical thinking, how can we impact that trend? There’s a lot of answers – improved schools, parents that place reasonable limits on digital access, etc. At a minimum, we should encourage reading.
The challenge is immense. The trends of a digital world are so pervasive today that it is almost overwhelming. I am always searching for relevant articles and books suggest to my mentees which may be helpful for them to understand a problem or issue. They don’t have to agree with the content, but the process of making them think critically is my aim.
If you have never mentored, please consider this a plea to get out of the stands and onto the playing fields with someone younger. They are out there looking for you because many realize that they need help with answers to questions that they can’t answer on their own.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Mentors are uniquely poised to fill in the gap for a mentee when it comes to solving problems or working through issues. He can help his mentee develop the ability to think critically, which is an all-important quality needed by tomorrow’s leaders.
FURTHER STUDY: Barna Research on Reading: The State of Books and Reading in a Digital Age https://www.barna.com/research/the-state-of-books-and-reading-in-a-digital-world/
The Mindset List from Beloit College: https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2021/
RESOURCES: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place by Andy Crouch is available from Amazon.
WORSHIP: Listen to Judy Jacobs sing Days of Elijah which talks about overcoming trials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUIa674GGCo
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