Wisdom – An Undervalued Characteristic


Strength.  Confidence.  Articulation.  Persistence.  Knowledge. Intelligence.  These are the characteristics we most commonly see among those most valued.  But what about wisdom?  To some an archaic term, but wisdom is a fundamental characteristic that identifying and learning from can benefit us immensely in legal practice.

What is Wisdom?

Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions.  Pretty simple to explain, really, but not always abundantly clear in any given situation.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, Proverbs tells us this story of Solomon (you know – the wise guy in the Bible):

One day two women came to King Solomon, and one of them said:  Your Majesty, this woman and I live in the same house. Not long ago my baby was born at home, and three days later her baby was born. Nobody else was there with us.  One night while we were all asleep, she rolled over on her baby, and he died. Then while I was still asleep, she got up and took my son out of my bed. She put him in her bed, then she put her dead baby next to me.  In the morning when I got up to feed my son, I saw that he was dead. But when I looked at him in the light, I knew he wasn’t my son. “No!” the other woman shouted. “He was your son. My baby is alive!” “The dead baby is yours,” the first woman yelled. “Mine is alive!” They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. Someone bring me a sword.” A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”“Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.”The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.” Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.”

Lessons in Wisdom

It doesn’t matter what you believe about the Bible, there are a number of lessons that we can take away from this story about wise decision making and put them into practice for ourselves:

  • Wisdom involves knowing people.  Solomon demonstrated his understanding of the mother’s heart when he made his threat.  How do you seek to understand your clients and colleagues when you’re making decisions that affect them?  Am I suggesting you threaten to cut a baby in half?  Um, no.
  • Wisdom is decisive.  So often we perceive the wise as the contemplative – those that sit on the fence.  In reality wisdom is entirely about decision making.  Solomon identified the issue, and made a decision.  The stakes were extremely high, but he didn’t stuff around.  Learn when to express an opinion as opposed to taking the safe way.  Wisdom is sometimes choosing to remain silent, but not always.
  • Wisdom is strategic.  It’s longer term than just the immediate.  Solomon had a strategy that he put in place to determine the truth and then acted upon it.  The strategy involved the short term (the threat) the medium term (the reaction of the true mother) and the end game (the decision about what to do).  Likewise you need to consider each aspect of your strategy in decision making.  Sometimes the interaction between the immediate and the distant can be difficult, but we need to assess it as best we can.

Today I’d like to encourage you not just to rely upon your knowledge and your intelligence – start to deliberately and consciously utilise the wisdom that you have in your decision making.  Doing so will impact your colleagues and your clients for the better as you adopt a course of striving for wise decision making, not just informed decision making.

Got any stories of wise decisions in legal practice you can share?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Happy Lawyering!

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