Against Methods

Method is sometimes an excellent substitute for wisdom — insofar as there is any such thing as an excellent substitute for wisdom. But wisdom takes time, and method is a lot easier to pass on to a bunch of people quickly.

We can’t make every day care worker, teacher, hospital tech, etc. into a doctor. But we can get them all CPR certified in a day. Wisdom is the kind of deep understanding of the body that you would need to invent or modify CPR. To just do it, all you need is a good method, taught by a competent teacher.

Method depends on slicing time in a certain way, at certain key junctures.  That works to an extent, but when life deviates from the expected, the next “slice” won’t work the way it’s supposed to — you either do it anyway, not realizing it won’t work, or you stall, not knowing what to do.

Until they are humbled by a situation their method doesn’t cover, lots of people succumb to the temptation to believe that they understand a field of endeavor, when all they really know is how to execute a particular method. But there’s a difference between monkey-see-monkey-do, aping wisdom, and the real thing.  Everybody starts with MSMD — and a wise man understands this and submits to the necessity to walk before he runs — but he doesn’t make it out to be more than it is.

There are fewer absolute rules than people think, and they often don’t apply in the way that people think.  The real world is not a postmodern goo-fest — there really are rules — but knowing which rule to apply when is a big, big deal.

In first aid, there’s a basic rule that you never move someone with a neck or back injury, unless you’re dragging him away from a fire or something similarly extreme — too much danger of making it worse and possibly paralyzing the person.  During my summer internship at a church up in Washington, we had a week-long family camp, and a man collapsed with a lower back injury while jumping rope with the little girls.  He was going into shock, and a friend of mine came and — over the vehement protests of several family members — got the man up, walked him around, and had him do several particular movements and then keep walking around until we could round up a vehicle and a driver to take him to the hospital.

The same family members who protested so vehemently were greatly surprised when, at the emergency room, the attending doctor had the man walk around and do the same movements my friend had made him do earlier.  My friend, it turns out, used to manage an assisted living facility.  While he’s not a doctor, he had seen a lot of this type of injury, and knew that shock was a greater threat at that moment than paralysis.  He knew that getting the patient up and moving him around carefully in particular ways would be safe, and would keep him from going into shock.  In drawing on his greater wisdom and understanding of the situation, he violated a basic tenet of first aid — but so what?

True wisdom understands the heart of the matter, and knows when to depart from method for the right thing, and this understanding is at the heart of many of the biblical stories. So David eats the showbread, Hezekiah asks God for mercy at the Passover, Rahab betrays her city to Joshua’s spies, Jael offers Siserah a snack and a nap, Namaan the Syrian bows down with his master in the temple of Rimmon, and many more.

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