Our knowledge is limited (Month of Proverbs)

Advice of the Ascetic, Moraqqa’-e Golshan, con...
Advice of the Ascetic, Moraqqa’-e Golshan,
conserved in Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes a way seems right to a man,
but the end of it leads to death!
(Proverbs 14:12)

This statement – more a fact than a piece of advice – is found amid similar observations in Chapter 14 of the book of Proverbs.  It’s almost as though the author supposed that, by calling attention to this reality, we would know what to do about it.

Objectively, we all understand that we may not have all the information. We might not know or understand an alternative perspective.  Our judgment may be clouded by loyalties, assumptions, traditions, emotions so that we don’t assemble even the information we do have in the best way.  We may have a temperament that tends towards always taking action, or a preference to wait and see, and sometimes the other tendency is needed. In our reflecting moments we know this.

Even so, there is a built in tendency to trust our own judgment more than that of anyone else – to only accept a different argument when its value has been proved to us (so we now can accept it as our own).  Even when we seek the advice of experts because of their special knowledge, we expect them to be able to explain their proposed course of action or treatment to us in terms that we can accept.

A sturdy understanding of our limitations, as this small proverb urges, would send us out more often to gather in other ideas and perspectives – to turn our first inclination to seeking counsel or sharing ideas before acting on them.  It is not only our individualistic 21st century minds that have a hard time grasping this – the Hebrew people 3000 years ago also found it worthwhile to remind each other of it.

Wisdom builds her house,
but Folly tears hers down with her own hands.
(Proverbs 14:1)

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