Wisdom is knowing when a question requires knowledge, insight or truth
We live in a highly analytical world where most of us require proof and evidence before we accept the resolution of a question. This is absolutely the correct approach for questions that have definitive answers.
However, the majority of questions are 'multivalent', meaning that they have multiple answers, or none at all, depending on your perspective. These include questions of morality, ethics, culture, relationships, sense of self and spirituality. Searching for proof and evidence to solve these problems is a road to ignorance. Resolution of these questions requires a different approach.
We generally use the following three models to resolve questions:
Answer Model: We perform research to gather evidence and proof in the search for knowledge. As mentioned, this is the appropriate approach for 'definitive questions', which are those with a single answer that can be proven.
Opinion Model: We turn to trusted advisors to seek insights in their area of expertise. This is the efficient 'go to' for multivalent questions that do not hold significant importance to us ('unimportant multivalents'), or as starting point for multivalent questions of significant importance to us ('important multivalents').
Truth Model: We 'trust our gut' to reveal our personal truth. In most cases, truth does not present itself until we have used the opinion model to appropriately understand all relevant insights--most importantly, those that oppose our original belief. As we have deep knowing of our personal truths, we do not grasp to them tightly, but remain vigilant for new insights and incorporate them as necessary.
Problems arise when we do not apply the correct model to a question as illustrated below. The green boxes indicate the use of the appropriate model, while the yellow boxes pose minor risks and the red boxes should be carefully avoided.
The potential issues that can arise with the application of the incorrect model are illustrated in the following examples:
Definitive question example: "Is Tupac Dead?"
There is conclusive evidence that he was murdered on September 13, 1996 (correct answer) -- still too soon for me! However, if we either aren't aware of the evidence, or don't want to believe it, we may ask a trusted friend who points to the fact that new music continued to be released for years after his death, so he must still be alive (false insight). Encouraged by the insight, we then join a Tupac fan group that has thousands who believe he is still alive and provide additional insights (e.g. he was spotted in Bora Bora), which strengthens our original insight into a false belief. Falling into a false belief is dangerous as we will vigorously oppose any evidence presented.
Unimportant multivalent question example: "Who is the greatest athlete of all time?"
While there has undoubtedly been countless hours spent to create a mathematical model to definitively answer the question, any model will provide an un-informed insight at best. Should it based on raw numbers alone (e.g. Ted Williams, Mike Trout)? Number of championships (e.g. Tom Brady, Michael Jordan)? Or perhaps the influence the athlete had on future generations (e.g. Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King)? To efficiently find an answer, we can turn to our most trusted sportscaster to provide us with an informed insight based on his criteria and experience. However, if we don't pay attention, we could find ourselves going down the rabbit hole. We could start by seeking out the opinions of other sportscasters for a more complete picture. But, why stop there? What about the athletes from other countries, other sports or from past generations and millennia. Unless we are a sportscaster, or aspiring to be one, this wasted effort will create an inefficient belief as the question lacks the necessary importance to warrant the amount of time and energy that was required. Ultimately, no amount of effort will ever reveal a truth.
Important multivalent question example: "What is my purpose?"
Attempts to discover the answer to this fundamentally important question analytically with facts and evidence will create an ignorant belief. Test scores, race, age, socio-economic class, sexual orientation, gender, etc. do not have any bearing on our purpose and what we can achieve. All barriers that exist today will be broken. After all, history is made by those who break through these perceived barriers (see Jackie Robinson and Billie Jean King above). Alternatively, we could use the opinion model to seek the advice of a trusted family member. Undoubtedly, this will reveal some useful insights about your interests and skills that you may not have known about, and will create a conditioned belief. However, it is critical that we view this only as a starting point knowing that the insights provided were biased by their personal experiences and values. Given the importance of the question, if we don't do this, we will hold a core belief that was formed by nothing more than the opinion of someone else. Personal truth will only be revealed after deep internal inquiry, not of who we are on paper or what others think of us, but of what our gut gets excited about. The beauty of personal truth is that we have a profound knowing that it is our truth, and ours alone.
It is also important to highlight that some questions shouldn't be asked in the first place and should be rejected, including:
Invalid questions: assumes that something is a fact that is not true (e.g. what do I need to achieve to finally be happy). The question is based on a false assumption, that happiness requires something you don't already have. Therefore, the search for an answer will be fruitless and acts to perpetuate the ignorant belief.
Useless questions: none of the available answers will provide any knowledge, insight or truth (e.g. how would you rate my attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 10?). In fact, many times these questions will only cause harm to ourselves or others.
Our society widely accepts the use of answers and opinions to resolve questions, and generally does not acknowledge that some questions require truth. Therefore, until we become aware of the truth model, we stop at the opinions of others when trying to discover the answers to the questions that matter most to us. With the exception of the insights we received as children, we generally have free will over the advisors we choose to select. However, we generally perceive all questions as definitive in nature. Therefore, the insights provided by our advisors are seen as THE TRUTH and we unknowingly become conditioned by their opinions. This creates an external facing belief system and sense of self that leaves us feeling lost and unfulfilled. One cannot find clarity, certainty and peace to the multivalent questions that matter deeply to us unless we look internally for our personal truth.