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The Deacon's Bench

While everyone picks apart last night’s GOP debate, and ponders what lies ahead in Iowa, the Wall Street Journal takes a wider view. This is one to clip and hang on your refrigerator. Or, maybe, in your cubicle. Key snippet:

Leadership is, at its marrow, the chronicle of judgment calls. These will inevitably write the leader’s legacy. Don’t get us wrong. We are not discounting the importance of experience. Seminal and appropriate experiences must be drawn on and understood before judgments can be informed. But experience is no guarantee of good judgment. There is a huge difference between 20 years of experience that advances one’s learning and one year of experience repeated 20 times.

In fact, there are numerous times when past experiences can prevent wise judgments. Barbara Tuchman long ago observed how generals tend to fight the last war, refusing to face new realities, almost always with disastrous consequences. And often, especially in today’s dizzying world, we need to understand what Zen Buddhists call the “beginner’s mind,” which recognizes the value of fresh insight unfettered by experience. In this more contemporary view, the compelling idea is the novel one. Perhaps no one articulated the nature of the beginner’s mind better than the composer Hector Berlioz when he said of his more popular rival Camille Saint-Saëns: “He knows everything. All he lacks is inexperience.”

Judgment isn’t quite an unnatural act, but it also doesn’t come naturally. And speaking from decades of experience, we’re not sure how to teach it. (We know it can be learned.) Wisely processed experience, reflection, valid sources of timely information, an openness to the unbidden and character are critical components of judgment as well. As David McCullough reminds us over and over again, “Character counts in the presidency more than any other single quality.”

Read the rest. There’s a certain wisdom there. (And maybe a homily or two?)

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