xkcd: Certainty (http://xkcd.com/263/)
In the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about the difficulties inherent in trying to impart knowledge/skills/habits/information/anything to anyone.
This is partly in response to things I’ve been reading or hearing which make me sit back and think “hmmm, so that’s useful advice for some, but could be harmful for others.” E.g. at Church yesterday the sermon was about being content (Philippians 4/ Luke 12). It was probably quite a good sermon if there was an area of your life in which you were significantly discontent. But if – like me – there isn’t currently* such an area, then there didn’t seem to be much in it. (Maybe in that case you’re supposed to sit there feeling smug … but that’s not usually the aim in Church 😉 ). I’ve also picked up examples around the blogosphere – e.g. lots of stuff aimed at people with low self-esteem is good advice for particular circumstances but bad general life advice.
This has got me thinking about how maybe wisdom is context-dependent. Like in maths, you have to understand the principles, not just carry out algorithms because someone said this was a good way to do things.
It’s also made me think a little bit about traditions of Christianity (I’m sure this happens in other religions too) where there is a priest who you confess to and consistently come to for advice. Who gets to know you and can guide you. I believe that this is [part of?] the role in Orthodox Christianity of the ‘spiritual father’**.
I used to think that this was an unnecessary barrier between the believer and God – a layer of bureaucracy, if you like. I’m now starting to see the enormous value of having someone you can turn to with anything for advice and wisdom.Who knows you, can talk about principles, can contextualise what that might mean for you in your situation, and who can continue to be there as you work things through.
It all makes me think hard about what I try to pass on … When I write, why do I write? And have I written well/responsibly/usefully (if not, why not?)? What do I pass on by the way that I live, the way I react to things, the things I speak up about and the things I let pass unspoken? What advice do I give? Is it fit for purpose? Do I help other people grow and develop – or do I unintentionally mess things up? These sorts of questions are important for everybody, I think, but I feel them especially keenly at the moment as I am in a position of co-leading a group of 14-18s at Church, and am having a lot of input into H’s life at the moment.
I suspect that this will be something I muse over for a very long time.