I want to be an intelligent person. Many people I know want to be intelligent persons, and pursue this end with much energy, vigour, and enthusiasm…. my question is about the purpose of all this bustle. Namely: What is the point of being smart?

This is a question and challenge for all those who are interested in learning, in speaking or writing for a living, in teaching, or even in serving as “active men,” that is, pastors, or business or political leaders. All such folks devote portions of their day into increasing in knowledge, becoming more informed and useful in their chosen field… to put it simply, in “being smart.”

Is being intellectually capable a good in itself? Or is it a means to some other end, or some third thing? If you have no answer to these questions, perhaps having one is important.

“It is a good in itself,” you may say. If you have no reason to doubt this, and see no need for extensive justification, consider this:

Let’s suppose the truism is true, and “knowledge is power.” The smarter you become, the more powerful you become. And the most powerful, capable, efficient people are the most dangerous, the biggest risk of causing harm. Like a scalpel: it is useful only because it is so dangerous. If it were not sharp, it could not wound nor could it heal.

Have you considered that knowledge, then, might be one of those things that is only good if employed at the right time in the right way? Employed the wrong way, perhaps it is the means to greater damnation.

Do you want to be a person with knowledge, without the knowledge of where to put it?

Perhaps second-order knowledge, knowing what to do with knowledge, is more important than knowledge itself? If not more important, at least primary.

It is a great thing to know how to build a skyscraper. It is a greater thing to know when to build a skyscraper and why.

If you are someone who invests in your intellect, take a moment, alone, or with a close friend, to ask yourself if you are totally comfortable with your present understanding of what to do with “smarts” once you get them.

(And, of course, post your reflections, that we might all get smarter together!)

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Posted by Keith E. Buhler

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