Discernment’s an older word that’s making a come back today. Discernment’s more an art than a science. That fact may account for its near disappearance during much of the 20th century, when we thought we could do just about anything so long as we had a technique derived from well-applied science.
Today, there’s a recovery of the more soulful arts—not just in spirituality but also in business and government. In fact, business leaders seem to use more spiritual language than religious leaders often do. Business leaders talk about corporate and product evangelists; consultants help boards recover a sense of soul; and CEO’s champion the kind of corporate spirit that can not only develop a profitable organization, but also one that can advance the common good.
These are challenging times we’re living in. There’s great pressure on leaders of every kind. But frankly who among us is really trained to negotiate the cultural white water that we are called as leaders to navigate today? Technique and method alone can’t carry us forward. The future belongs to those who have an uncanny ability to know what needs to be done when. And knowing that isn’t the product of an MBA from Harvard; it doesn’t come by hiring a hot shot consultant.
We often see success in those who’ve not been to Harvard, who do not have a pedigree, some who’ve never been to college. They seem to have an angle on an inner truth that no school could have helped them find.
Today’s most successful entrepreneurs seem to live more by Thomas Berry’s vision, “we must dream our way into the future”[ref] than by what they could have learned in business school.
They have the uncanny ability to access a deeper and spiritual wisdom that translates into the kind of action and products, services and ideas we most need today.
Truth is, the wisdom they’ve found isn’t the purview only of isolated and enlightened individuals. The wisdom we need often comes best through groups which are committed to the the practice of discernment, opening to the wisdom within us and within each other.
There is, of course, a great tradition of this within religious communities. For Christians, the great councils, beginning with the work of the Jerusalem council in Saint Luke’s The Acts of the Apostles (chapter 15), are examples of this.
Jesus himself taught, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I Am in there among them” (Matthew 18.20).
So . . .
Let’s recover the historic practice of sitting together in prayerful openness to God and to each other in order to find our way forward in this time of uncertainty, a time that desperately needs a new creativity arising from deep wisdom;
Let’s move beyond committee and board meetings where so much that goes on, goes on inside our heads—that is, north of the neck. Let’s not abolish them, but transform them into communities of spiritual discernment, seeking the common good.
Let’s commit ourselves to discerning ways forward into what has never been before. Let’s commit ourselves to innovation because we know that “if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always gotten.”