WISDOM, EXPERIENCE AND JUST-IN-TIME THINKING
WISDOM, EXPERIENCE AND JUST-IN-TIME THINKING
We’ve talked about critical thinking skills here quite a bit. The ability to simply ask why is one of them. Another aspect of a good thinker is not always jump to knee-jerk conclusions, either. You know, let ideas and concepts “fester” in your mind for a period of time (at least a few days, certainly longer than “right now!”)
This editorial delves into one angle of the “just in time” facet of today’s society of specialists (and lack of generalists). Excellent commentary – if not just for the purpose of contemplation. Hope some of you get something from this. I sure did!
I try to remind myself each generation considers itself smarter than the previous iteration. If you follow the bouncing logic ball, this means the next (younger) generation believes itself smarter than its present day cohort. In essence the millennial generation of today feels superior to those older than them while simultaneously inferior to the pack nipping at their heels.
Call it a superiority/inferiority complex, though admittedly the superior portion leads the inferior since we are all immortal gods at that age. Soon enough that wears off, usually around 30ish when we begin to recognize vulnerabilities already present and obvious to all but ourselves.
Ultimately smartness or intelligence is a relative measuring tool. There is no doubt my nineteen year old college student rocket scientist is much more adept at deciphering mathematical equations or manipulating genomes than I am. But can she determine which way a tree will tend to fall before cutting it, or smell snow in the air long before it begins to fall?
I’ve written before about the tendency of a technological culture to breed, and reward, specialists while dismissing generalists out of hand as the decaying fossils of our time. And while those who pontificate such wisdom are not exactly wrong, neither are they precisely right.
Obviously I understand with complexity comes specialization. I get it. The company designing and manufacturing the latest central processing unit (CPU) essentially the ‘thinking’ brain of a computer, cannot expect one person to understand and execute the thousands of steps involved in creating the finished product. Efficiency and economy demands a better way forward and, for now at least, that way is via specialty.
And as long as the underlying systems (all of which increasingly rely on just-in-time delivery of material, manufacturing and information) continue to work, the results are admittedly spectacular. While we might not yet have the flying cars promised in my youth, in many respects our standard of living is unmatched in breadth and scope from that imagined just a few decades ago.
Compared to medieval times, we all live like kings…..only better and longer.
Each sun setting generation bemoans the loss of knowledge and skills by the succeeding generation. My mother and father did it with me, and I’m doing it with my children. It’s an old fart kind of thing I suppose, though not entirely without merit.
I don’t mean to imply the experience gained from felling trees applies to a population raised/working in a concrete and steel jungle. Nor does the skill gained navigating a public transportation system apply to me when the nearest taxi or bus is at least 25 miles away. I understand the skills you ‘need’ are relative to the environment you’re in.
But as my mom was prone to say, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Or as I like to say, just because something doesn’t apply doesn’t mean it has no use or utility.
Knowledge and wisdom is not the same thing. Not even close as a matter of fact. Saying they are the same or similar is like comparing apples to autos. Both may be composed of atoms carefully arranged, but one is perfection in its singleness while the other is imperfect in its complexity. Besides, I cannot ride my apple to town nor eat my auto. At least not yet!
While someone can teach my daughter how to figure the square root and I can teach someone how to start and operate a chain saw, standing under a towering and misshapen maple on the side of a hill gauging its natural fall is not a skill solely gained from teaching, but mostly from trial and error. In other words, by applied and retained experience. Often this expresses as intuition, instinct or feel.
Knowing how to calculate the square root is knowledge, while determining how a tree will fall and possibly counteracting that tendency is wisdom. And knowing when to walk away from a particularly difficult tree and selecting a less formidable foe is deep wisdom intelligently applied. Often the best knowledge and experience is gained from surviving our ignorance…so long as we transform our life lesson into soul enriching wisdom.
By definition we don’t know what we don’t know. An older and presumably wiser person doesn’t necessarily ‘know’ more than a younger pup just starting out. But there is at least some expectation the wisdom carved from extensive experience and reflection will enable the older person to navigate life more easily, if not more gracefully.
I speak of this because in many respects, wisdom acts as a brake, a stabilizer and ultimately the propulsion when contemplating our path forward. It’s so much more than simple familiarity, as in “Oh, I’ve seen this one before and know what to do”, usually the hallmark of experience alone.
Wisdom encourages a person of experience to contemplate an absolute truth, that the only thing constant in life is change. Thus just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it is ‘known’, only recognized as very similar. The wise navigator understands each encounter, no matter how familiar, is not exactly the same as last time. Admittedly the differences are at times so negligible they may not affect the outcome…this time.
Over the years I’ve learned a few golden rules I use to guide my life. Often life situations present themselves in such a way they instill in us a palatable urgency to do something, anything, to relieve the anxiety and angst overwhelming us. My mom used to bestow upon us little nuggets of wisdom with the hope they eventually took root. One of them was the following…”Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”
Words for the wise indeed.
In a (often fake) world of just-in-time deliveries, paychecks, manufacturing, publishing, entertainment, healthcare and even just-in-time parenting, is it any wonder each generation is slowly being infected with just-in-time thinking? Although maybe the better term for this condition is just-in-time emotional reacting.
In part I blame our unabashed acceptance of consumerism; more specifically the active ingredient that propels it all forward, advertising. Those who are familiar with the Hegelian Dialectic recognize the dynamic played out on a daily basis.
Problem, Reaction, Solution.
The purpose of advertising is simplicity itself. Compel the target to alter their behavior to the ultimate benefit of the advertiser. If the target also benefits, so be it. But that is not the primary purpose, and when we are told otherwise we are being lied to. Sure, a symbiotic relationship may benefit all, thereby supporting all. But more and more lately the rising tide does not lift all boats equally.
In fact many are rapidly sinking.
How is this done? As Sun Tuz carefully explains in “The Art of War”, the most effective way to defeat the enemy is to compel/convince them to lay down their weapons. Advertising seeks to disarm us by turning off the thinking brain and turning on and up our emotional response.
The propagandist/advertiser either creates a Problem out of thin air (Are you aware 1 out of 3 people suffer from social anxiety disorder?) or more often simply heightens and exaggerates ‘known problems’ (If your vehicle is more than 3 years old, you are much more likely to break down on the side of the road.) Or they simply appeal to base emotions such as fear, greed and lust.
The Reaction is supplied by you and me. “Yes, sometimes I am uncomfortable in social settings. Hell, all of us are at some point in life.” and “On occasion I do worry about the car breaking down late at night when the weather is bad with my wife driving alone.” or “Of course I want to be rich, famous and loved by all. Who doesn’t?”
Naturally the Solution is embedded in the problem and can quickly be supplied by these side effect laden drugs, that new car, those cosmetics or this get-rich-quick scheme along with a personal makeover.
Ok, and maybe I could lose some weight as well. Do you have a pill for that?
We have been steadily conditioned for generations to apply little more than just-in-time thinking when confronted with the daily barrage of overt and covert messaging. While many will claim to mostly ignore the cognitive onslaught, it’s still pounding away at our subconscious with confusing, contradictory and controlling memes. Is it any wonder critical thinking skills have been all but lost to the present, and prior, generation?
No it is not!
But of course most of my readers will not identify with the current millennial generation. So the proper question to ask is…what has happened to our own critical thinking skills? Are we also just-in-time thinkers?
If the answer is “I think not”, maybe we should think again.