What does practical wisdom mean in today’s world? Does the answer rest in your response to certain questions? Like, are you a practical person? Or, do you consider yourself a wise person? If you answered yes, you’d think you could agree on what practical wisdom is with anyone who answered the same, wouldn’t you? But more often than not, that is not the case. The polarization in today’s world is so vast and so common, agreeing on what is practical, much less wise, seems impossible.
In the past, practical wisdom referred to taking the right action to reach the target goal. Deeming an action to be “right” usually rested on an assumption of good judgment or discernment about the situation at hand.
So practical wisdom was basically determined by what you value. In a less complex world, a simple morality defined the values. But today’s morality seems more complicated. It allows values to range from caring for those who can’t help themselves, to taking care of yourself before all others, and everything in between.
It would seem that today, our understanding of what practical wisdom means and how to find it, has something missing. Opposing camps claim different avenues to what appear to be conflicting goals. Yet each camp holds on to the definition of their perspective as the way to practical wisdom and the best solution to the problem. Could both be right? Or is one “right way” all there can be?
How Can There Be Two Right Ways?
Here’s something to consider. In 2016, the Moral Foundations Theory was created. This offers six values believed to be common for all human beings. The assumption here is that all humans are endowed with these six values. However, there are multiple ways to organize these values and to have them interact. This theory stated that the way a human being orders these values in importance will create the face of their morality. And that becomes the basis for their choices and decisions about what is right and wrong.
Here are the prime values the theory espouses: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity.
What follows is an exercise to test out the value of this perspective for yourself:
- Put these six values in the order you deem them to be important for a few specific situations, like immigration, marriage, the federal government, climate change, wealth, dieting, parenting, etc.
- Number the importance of each value for each situation.
- Rate them with the most important value being number one to the least important being number six. If all six don’t apply, then don’t put them in the list for that situation or circumstance.
I’m fairly certain you moved the values around in several of the situations you chose, if not all of them. If you didn’t, it just means you’ve decided some values are more important to uphold even when they conflict with the values in another situation or circumstance. If you approach practical wisdom in this way, it may offer some insight into how others can believe things so diametrically opposite to what you believe. So your confusion around this may have a bit of a respite.
But what to do with these differences when they are so emotionally-laden?
The War Between Opposing Values
Despite how much we understand human values and their influence on our sense of morality, we still keep missing one or two very salient points. I’m sure it’s obvious to you that everything has an upside and a downside. You know that eventually, the upside will turn into its downside. There is just no certainty when that movement will happen. But you do know that life moves from youth to old age. Roses bloom and then wilt. Each season has its easy days and its tough days.
There is an inherent rhythm in the flow of life from one thing to the next. After a while, it’s pretty obvious that a repeating pattern is occurring. But there is something that keeps getting missed when it comes to discerning the rhythm of cooperation between competing values.
Each seemingly opposing set of values carries a part of the solution to the problem. Each has some part of the much sought after “truth” about the best way to handle the problem. How come we keep missing that?
When Beliefs Graduate To Truth
Being blind to this rhythm of cooperation between competing values is even more predominant today as beliefs seem to have been graduated to the status of truth – one of the most dangerous things that can occur. Why? Because every value has both strengths and weaknesses. Neither one is complete without its balancing opposite. If you claim a particular value as yours, the tendency is to only see its strengths. If you reject the opposing value, you will usually only see its weaknesses.
The solutions, or truths, being sought today can only rest in embracing the notion that seemingly opposing values are both valid and incomplete on their own.
Together, however, they provide the sought after “right action”.
Together, they offer clarity about how to respond and behave.
In addition, when opposing values are perceived as complementary, conflict is defused.
We keep missing this point over and over. So how can two completely opposite values complement each other? Here’s the answer:
The weakness of each value is balanced out by the strengths of the opposing value.
We keep missing this very important point because the friction between the two opposing viewpoints or values feels very unpleasant. And we humans don’t like unpleasant. So we avoid it or try to get rid of it. But that friction is actually not a bad thing. It’s not an antagonistic tension despite how it feels in your body. If you examine it closely, you’ll see that it is a creative dynamic tension. Yes, there’s an element of competition. But the co-existing element of cooperation smoothes it out. We seem to have lost access to this dynamic act of balancing. And this loss may be more cataclysmic than imagined possible.
The Guidance Of The Canary In The Coal Mine
I was listening to a podcast the other day on Conscious Evolution by a fellow named Robert Cobbold. It was an interesting and well-produced podcast series. One of the things that struck me was his discussion on Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. According to Mr. Cobbold, the phrase “survival of the fittest” was mentioned very few times by Darwin. But love was mentioned over 20 times. He then went on to discuss how cooperation was actually the most crucial element for the survival of a species. This element seems to be sadly lacking in today’s world.
In 1986, the use of canaries to detect toxic gas (carbon monoxide) before it hurt the miners came to an end. The canaries value was replaced by the introduction of an ‘electronic nose’. I mention this only because the canary acted as a safeguard against the buildup of what was toxic to the miners.
Why bring this up? Well, following the guidance of competition and the drive to win at all costs has now risen to toxic levels. We need a canary to let us know we’re in serious danger.
What Is Our Canary Today?
Today’s canary is the weakness of each opposing value. If you pay attention, the weaknesses are trying to protect you from ignoring the need to balance and regulate the war between competition and cooperation. Balance is always is the key. If you can remember nothing else, using balance as your guideline will be immensely helpful. In the presence of disagreement, balance will always steer you toward cooperation in order to find a position of agreement.
So what am I suggesting? I’m proposing that becoming conscious of the nature of our own conflict with other people’s opposing values can help us begin to move away from setting one value up as better and more “right” than its opposite. Our goal is to solve the problem. When you perceive opposing values as complementary, you can more easily cooperate. Then you’re free to find solutions that draw on the strengths of both competing values while letting their weaknesses take on the job of the canary in the coal mine.
A Way To Gauge Your Own Practical Wisdom
Want to be daring and test this out? Explore what happens to your own sense of practical wisdom when you pick an area where you feel disturbed by what’s happening. It could be politics, racial or economic inequality, the appointment of the next Supreme Court justice, problems at home, the pandemic. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just something that upsets you and gets you all fired up about doing things the “right way”.
Write down your own point of view or value. Then write down the opposite point of view or value you feel is not right. Then take a moment and pretend you’re the canary in the coal mine. Identify the weaknesses of your own point of view. Then see if you can identify the strengths of the opposing point of view you’re against.
By just doing this simple inquiry, you open the door to safeguarding the emergence of cooperation and balance. Give it a try. If you want some support, just contact me and I’ll walk you through it. Or pick up my book dedicated to sharing this process – Unflappable – 6 Steps To Staying Happy, Centered & Peaceful No Matter What.
Until next time, may you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy, with an eye for bringing yourself back to balance as often as you can.
*** All images are free and compliments of www.Pixabay.com