Monday, February 10, 2014

Rethinking Wisdom: "I know nothing."

It is reported that Plato's Socrates said, "I know that I know nothing." Another translation puts it like this,"I know one thing: that I know nothing" With the notable exception of Solomon, is there anyone from antiquity considered wiser than Socrates?

The more complete translations of this thought is this: "I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know." 

Socrates was responding to a question: "Is anyone wiser than Socrates?" The wise know one very important thing - that they do not fancy themselves to know what they do not or cannot know.

As I consider this quote, I am rethinking what it means to be wise, as last week I was sadly "unfriended" for this Facebook comment: 

"...Isn't it time we stop the board brush assumptions about what other Christians might do, and the stereotypes such as (edited: a particular group of other Christians).... Why assume we know anything about how others, as a group, might respond in this case? Let God be the judge - Romans 2:1"

When we stereotype we only demonstrate how "unwise" we are. Not that stereotyping is necessarily inaccurate as a whole of a position held by a group. Groups do have identities, positions they hold, thinking that make them who they are. But often we demonstrate how unwise we are by using them. 

My “friend” was questioning how this particular Christian group, a group my friend apparently doesn’t hold in much esteem, would respond to the recent tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. His wondering causing him "cringe"publicly. Not a loving posture to take.

Stereotypes, even if accurate, only demonstrate oversimplified thinking. The problem with thinking in stereotypes is that groups aren’t people – individuals. Stereotypes never represent the whole. Worse, grouping people dehumanizes them, and therefore they become easy targets. We can easily dismiss and diminish “others” because they are not “one of us.” This is unwise and truly unloving. 

As Socrates said, “neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something.” Isn't it unwise to think we know something about how others might respond to a tragic death of another, based on a stereotype? Human emotions are never predictable.
Especially in such matters, we would do well to emulate Socrates in this: "I know one thing: that I know nothing." That is not to say that we should know nothing. Not at all – we are told to get wisdom (Proverbs 4:5). Rather, it is unwise to think we do know what others know or would do in every case, based upon our presuppositions.

On a public forum like Facebook we can easily make known what we think we know, and find ourselves challenged by a simple question – “is this good?” “How does it build up others?” We may think we are wise, sure of ourselves, but easily demonstrate how unwise we are. Lord knows I have been guilty of this.

I think what Socrates was saying is that it is better to not demonstrate how wise we think we are than to demonstrate we simply aren’t as wise as we think. 

As Christ followers we are called to be wise in how we interact with others. “We do…speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age….we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Cor 2:6-7). 

Our wisdom must be used to encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11) in a way that demonstrates the Gospel and unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3). That is sufficient wisdom for Living Sent Today.

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