The Wiser Candidate

For those who value individual and economic freedom it is hard not to despair at the political choices in front of us. Both candidates support disastrous interventions in the economy as they argue over who would “create” more jobs by giving away other people’s money. Both support disastrous foreign policies and fight over who would be tougher on China. Both are unlikely to roll back frightening attacks on our civil liberties. Both are likely to continue to increase centralized presidential power. Perhaps one presidential candidate might be marginally better than the other over the next four years, but I wouldn’t waste your time trying to convince you of something that I have little confidence in.

If you’re especially cynical or prone to thinking strategically, you might argue that you should vote for the candidate that you like least. Problems are sure to multiply over the next few years, and whoever is in office and the party they represent will be blamed. In this regard, there are too many factors at work to make strategic thinking possible; I will pass here also. Besides, who wants to be that cynical about the future of our country?

I have a view, too, about which of the two candidates is more intelligent. I won’t bore you with that view either because I think it matters much less than people think. Both candidates are clearly smart enough to be president, but there’s a larger issue. Which candidate is wiser?

Wisdom is not the same as intelligence. Those we revere as intelligent have the ability to recall and utilize memorized information. They also have the ability to analyze and solve problems within a given frame of reference. Within a given frame of reference is a big qualifier. Someone can be very intelligent but have little wisdom. The two are often not correlated.

For example, Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman is very intelligent; yet he advocates completely inappropriate policies even in the face of overwhelming evidence that undermines his position. Krugman is very skilled at manipulating mathematical equations. He is very skilled at reciting books he has read, and he is very skilled at writing books. However intelligent he may be, he seems to have no ability to step outside of his Keynesian frame of reference. No matter what problem he meets he has one response—spend money and print more money.

Those who confuse intelligence and wisdom might conclude that Krugman is actually a stupid man. Not at all. I would be very surprised if Krugman’s IQ was not exceptional. But again, high IQ is not the same as wisdom.

In their book Sanity, Insanity and Common Sense psychologists Rick Suarez, Roger Mills and Darlene Stewart observe why wisdom is often fleeting:

Wisdom cannot be realized through mental struggle or the intellectual process of trying to figure out our problems. The reason that wisdom is not more frequently recognized is that human beings have traditionally idolized intellectual and analytical reasoning, and wisdom does not come from these thought patterns. We have missed wisdom because we have learned to think in terms of our problems, to be “realistic,” and to sort through our stored information for the answers that we seek. We have literally been looking for our answers in the wrong place without knowing it. All that we can think about is what is programmed into our biological computer.

Of course, intelligence and analytical reasoning can be very valuable. If you want to build a bridge, hire a bright civil engineer. If you need code for new program, hire a bright software engineer. But if you need someone to step outside of the current frame of reference, you need an individual who has the capacity for wisdom.

Our current bipartisan frame of reference has created an American crisis. In coming years that crisis will grow. No matter how bright our president is, if he or she analyzes the crisis through the lens of the bipartisan frame of reference that has created the crisis, no solutions will be found. Wisdom is needed because wisdom reveals what was previously unknown. Those who are intelligent but not wise do not look towards the unknown. T.S. Eliot wrote: “Not known, because not looked for.”

Suarez, Mills and Stewart write,

[Wisdom] is a level of intelligence, innate in every human being, which is deeper and more comprehensive than what we associate with an IQ score. Wisdom exists outside of individualized frames of reference, which is why it has not been more readily realized by a humanity that is wedded to fixed patterns of thinking and perceptions of reality.

Alexander Fleming for example discovered penicillin when he noticed that a contaminate in a petri dish was dissolving bacteria that Fleming was analyzing. Instead of discarding the petri dish as a failed experiment, Fleming made one of the great discoveries of the 20th century.

If the next president is going to be successful, he is going to have to step outside of his current frame of reference. Curtailing civil liberties, spending more, subsidizing more, printing more money, and threatening other countries will only deepen our crisis.

So which candidate has the potential to be wiser? Of course, the nature of wisdom is that any human being has the ability to access it. So the real question is this: Which candidate for president is more likely to make himself available for wisdom by being willing to step outside his current frame of reference?  Of course, we can only speculate.

Liz Wiseman, in her very instructive book: Multipliers, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smart, offers a tantalizing clue. Her book was published in 2010 before the presidential campaign began. She writes of Mitt Romney’s time at Bain and Company:

On Mitt’s team, people were engaged. He took the time to get to know each person and understand the capabilities they brought to the team. This went well beyond reviewing their resume. Mitt would determine what people are naturally good at and find a way to use those talents with the client engagement… In one-on-one meetings, Mitt not only asked about the status of project deliverables, he asked about the blockers. A favorite question was “What is getting in the way of your being successful.”

Wiseman sees Romney as a multiplier, someone who helped set up the conditions to bring out the intelligence in others.

To be sure, Wiseman is talking about intelligence and not wisdom. Yet the ability to help bring out the intelligence in others begins with the humility to understand that your own personal intelligence is not enough. That understanding is one of the precursors for wisdom.

The next president of the United States, along with the country, will almost certainly face terrible trials. We can only pray that we select the wiser man.

2 Responses to The Wiser Candidate

  1. Trey says:

    And America did select the wiser candidate. Even though poll after reputable poll showed Obama having an edge in the electoral college, CBS news reports that Romney and his team were “shellshocked” by the loss because they ignored data that contradicted their preconceived beliefs and gave into group think. They were so deluded in their thinking that one campaign insider said that no one saw it(the loss) coming. I am thankful that someone who could be so easily deluded will not be President. Romney allowed himself to be fleeced, exploited and deceived by his own political consultants and the conservative entertainment complex(led by Fox News) into believing that they had the election in the bag when there was ample evidence to the contrary given by non partisan polling sources. Really, this is not the kind of person who should be leading the country.

    • Barry Brownstein says:

      Thanks, Trey for your comments. I sincerely hope you are right. And I hope I am wrong about the acute need for a wise president. I wouldn’t bet on President Obama questioning his own “preconceived beliefs.”

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