I am in our nation’s capital today, for reasons I will explain tomorrow. This morning I walked in front of the White House and soon found myself praying for the people inside. I do not do that often enough. Not only is the prayer needed, but, as always, it helps frame matters for us. We are all in this together, and I would rather see Obama change his policies and be fantastically successful in restoring a flourishing nation than continue on his current course and suffer the inevitable electoral comeuppance. So I prayed that God would grant wisdom to those who inhabit and work within that building.
I was reminded of a comment from my father shortly before I embarked for my freshman year at Stanford: “There will be many intelligent people there,” he said, “but intelligence and wisdom are not the same thing. Seek out people of wisdom.”
I witnessed the truth of this observation on a daily basis at Stanford — and later at other universities. Some of the most intelligent people I came to know in those places did the most foolish things, and even believed the most foolish things on the basis of their ignorance or prejudice or naivete. Intelligence refers to a set of neutral tools and capacities — wisdom to a set of valuable lessons and truths and character qualities. Intelligence is an ability to learn from experience; wisdom has actually learned the right lesson from experience (experience does not make one wise, but experience rightly interpreted). Intelligence is entirely compatible with arrogance and stubbornness, enmity and jealously; intelligence by itself “puffs up.” The world is full of intelligent fools, and history is replete with the destruction intelligent men have wrought. Wisdom brings humility, a sober appreciation of limitations, and thus a willingness to learn and listen to new perspectives.
Wisdom is a rarer and more precious commodity. And observing the Obama administration, no one observation has struck with greater consistency and force than that there is a poverty of wisdom in the White House today. And not only the White House — but the Congress as well. Obviously Obama is not Hitler. Neither is David Axelrod, in spite of the mustache. But this White House has been characterized by a commitment to ideology that overrides a sober assessment of reality, a company of soaring egos and preening narcissism over humility and practicality, a determination to caricature and attack its critics rather than find with them a common cause, and underneath it all a constant string of foolish decisions.
Yet the Obama administration is passing through a turning point. Many of the folks whom I consider more intelligent than wise — chief among them Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod — are lurching for the door as quickly as possible. I am encouraged that one of the men who truly does seem wise, Robert Gates, has apparently become a trusted counselor for the President. We need more of his ilk.
Will the new leadership in the administration be wise? Or merely intelligent?
Let us pray.