Getting Wisdom From There to Here

The thing about getting to the resolution of a conflict situation is that it is a long road, from the initiation of a conflict to a resolution of a conflict.

And since it’s a long road, the bumps, the twists and the turns are what interests us as spectators. Those of us in the audience are here to witness the journey, not the outcome.

Except: When all the audience is interested in hearing about—or giving their limited attention to—is a boiled down summation of the process, with a list of steps for how to get to end and be done, then there is little about experiencing (or explaining) the moments along the road that can hold the audience’s interest.

The path of conflict requires those of us who have been along the path to provide wisdom—and not shortcuts—to encourage and inspire people to walk the same path. And to stick with walking it when the outcome seems in doubt.

The bumps along the road include opportunities to attain the following traits and skills (in alphabetical order):




Deep competence

Emotional Intelligence




Indomitable Spirit



Satisfaction (from a job well done)




There will always be adversity. You will always have conflicts, trials, and tribulations. Be of good cheer, and show others the path.

Because there ain’t no app, shortcut, or listicle, for getting the wisdom from walking the path.

An Academic Question

The question that academics should be asking (and answering) is this one: “What value do I add to a college students’ experience in a world where information is just a Google search away?”

The answer to this question requires academics to admit, out loud, that research may not be the best way to add value to a students’ experience in the wider world.

The answer to this question requires academics to admit, out loud, that the systemized expansion of the administrative class in colleges and universities may be a value subtraction rather than a value-add for students.

The answer to this question requires academics to adopt a posture that ensures that acquiring tenure is not about research that no one reads, publishing in a few august journals that can’t be accessed via Google, and then maybe teaching some classes.

The answer to this question requires academics to position themselves as true advocates of student learning, rather than giving lip service to the thought.

The answer to this question reduces class sizes, increases educational quality (higher education, that is…there are other questions to answer for K-12) and reduces the impact of the administrative class—and renders opaque the ‘black box’ of administrative decisions.

The answer to this question allows real, lifetime, impactful learning to occur inside of the institutions that we all know and love. Learning that becomes less about lecturing and information transfer (that’s what Google and Youtube are for) and becomes more about coaching, encouraging and watering minds.

There are a few academics who are asking—and answering—this question, but not nearly enough, not nearly loud enough, not nearly often enough, to bring the genuine change that students—both now and in the future—will need to meet the challenges of an ever more confusing 21st century.

Clearing Out the Cruft

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your reactions and responses to conflicts in your life, can take at least a lifetime.

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your employee’s reactions and responses to conflicts in your organization can take at least 20 years.

Clearing out the cruft that surrounds your country, community, and neighborhood’s reactions and responses to conflicts in your country, community, and neighborhood, can take at least 50 years.

But that doesn’t mean that Ghandi, Candace Lightner, or even your cousin can’t change—or even be the source of effective change in others.

It means that the change isn’t going to happen nearly as fast as you think that it should.

It just means that when the change finally comes the impacts will appear slowly at first, and then all at once.

It also means that attending one training, reading one blog post, or implementing the ideas from one book, is not going to ever replace the hard work of working on yourself first, and everyone else second.

Utopia and Dystopia in the Present

A friend once pointed out that he doesn’t watch films that portray either a dystopic future (i.e. Children of Men or Blade Runner) or a utopian ideal (i.e. Avatar or Gattaca) because they tend to be less than realistic.

There is a lot of talk (and writing) going around about the importance of either 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as a literary or cultural guideposts in a time of rampant civic uncertainty and fear.

There are several problems with articulating–and living out–a worldview based off works by English authors of the early to mid-20th century, but the biggest problem of all is the mindset behind thinking that authors of a dystopian (or utopian) future can possibly provide any actionable wisdom in the present day.

The specific problems are best articulated by others, but the general issues that face believers searching for truth in any conception of utopia (or dystopia) are three-fold:

Utopia (or dystopia) look different based upon your frame of reference. This is the main problem in applying the logic of utopia (or dystopia) to fleeting present-day political disputes and disagreements, rather than seeking longer term wisdom. The fact is, for every person who views a position as a dystopic one, there is a person who at the least views the position as not a problem. And for some, they view the position through the frame of utopian thinking.

The dystopia (or utopia) that a person is looking for (typically one represented in film or literature) is rarely exactly the one that manifests in the real world. The specific tent poles of culture, politics, and societal considerations are fluid and dynamic, not static and solid. There are elements of utopia (or dystopia) that manifest, but not all of them. Not exactly. And the fact is, when there isn’t exactitude in the manifestation of a prediction, the credibility of the predictor (and by extension the reputation of the prediction itself) seems to fail miserably.

How people think about what’s happening now influences how they mentally construct utopias (or dystopias), and then emotionally “buy-in” to them. This mental and emotional construction is more of an analysis about the nature of a present condition of conflict, rather than about genuinely deep conflict analysis. This is why films and literature aren’t good predictors of what will happen, what can happen, or even what should happen.

The fundamentals that underlie films and literature about dystopias or utopias are snapshots in time, representing a particular conflict mindset, and a particular set of perspectives on the world and events in it.

We would do well to be skeptical of attempts to glean too much understanding of current events from them, and would do better at managing and engaging with the conflicts we are currently in, by dealing bravely with the utopia (or dystopia) we’re creating right now.

Wisdom is a Skill

Wisdom is a skill.

In our modern era, that values speed over taking time, and that values the new over the old, wisdom is viewed, not as a skill, but as something unattainable.

This intellectual and cultural state of affairs has not always been the case.

As a matter of fact, when information moved slower (although from an individual’s perception, information has always moved faster than comprehension) wisdom was valued both as a skill and as an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual state.

Getting wisdom is more than about getting knowledge (which we can get from Google) or about debating about the “owning” of facts (which we now battle over publicly) or even about truth claims (which continue to be divisive); getting wisdom is about having the skill to know when to talk, and when to listen.

Be slow to speak.

Be quick to listen.

Be mindful of the power of knowledge.

Be engaged with things that are difficult.

Be a source of memory.

Wisdom is a skill, and the massively existential struggle of modernity is the tension between accepting the immediately available knowledge of the now, and the seemingly obscure wisdom of the past.

In that tension, there are a few critical questions we have to answer:

  • Do we ignore the past and barrel toward the future?
  • Do we engage with the skill of attaining wisdom, or do we continue to chase knowledge?
  • Do we search for meaning in our conflicts and communications, or do we channel our energy into forgetting, seeking closure, and “moving on”?
  • Do we look to the wisdom of the past without a critical spirit based in destruction, pride, anger, and arrogance, or do we abandon the pursuit?
  • Do we pass along the hard lessons to our current generations (sometimes in hard ways through hard conflicts) or do we allow them to sit in pretend ease?

The strategy is leveraging past wisdom to determine the answers to these questions.

And it’s not a strategy that we can outsource to our technological tools anytime soon.

[Advice] The Fundamentals

When analyzing a problem to move forward towards a solution, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the fundamentals of the problem.

We place a lot of importance in understanding, revisiting, and honoring the fundamentals of a problem, because they come, not from conceived wisdom, or even perceived wisdom, but from received wisdom.

Of course, this wisdom is received from a past when the fundamentals weren’t fundamental, they were merely subjective reality, based upon the circumstances of that time and place.

Or, this received wisdom isn’t really wisdom at all, but merely regurgitated conventional wisdom, which has two marks against it before it even is spoken into existence—yet again.

In the now, when confronted by a problem that seems to resembles one we faced in the past, we hearken back to that received wisdom, and being trapped by hindsight bias, we demand that fundamentals be reinstituted.

But this is just a clever version of the idea of returning to a past when everybody got along, there was no strife, and the fundamentals were sound.

Here’s the thing:

Demanding a return to the fundamentals can be a callback to received wisdom, but only if the current problem resembles a past one in any kind of way. And problems involving people, rather than processes, are constantly in flux.

Creating a solution to a problem based in the fundamentals can be a foundation to work from. But they can also be the concrete that traps a person, a community, a society, or culture, in a species of cloudy nostalgia for a past that never really was. And once trapped by such nostalgia, those same people, communities, societies, and cultures, are inevitably surprised when an outlier comes along who fundamentally doesn’t care about the concrete of the fundamentals.

Advocating for fundamentals based in received wisdom can be biased, not only because they reflect the prejudices of our personal attributions to past events, our personal desire to minimize dissonance in the present, and our personal need for stability and security in the future, but also because our personal hindsight is always perfect. But in reality, getting to resolution and discovering what fundamental actually worked to solve which problem in the past, was always complicated, messy, mistake-prone, and not assured of success.

Making a rhetorical appeal to return to fundamentals is inherently flawed when the current circumstances don’t even remotely resemble previous circumstances.

And having the courage to throw the past fundamentals out and establish new ones, will always increase conflict, rather than decrease it.

[Opinion] 3 Things We Need Now

As many events become revealed that were once hidden; as information becomes freer and freer, and as people have more access to more entertainment, distraction, and dopamine hits via the communication objects in our pockets, audiences need three things now:

Wisdom: There is a dearth of wisdom. You can’t get wisdom from a Google search. You can’t stream wisdom to your mobile device. The only way that wisdom comes (folksy or otherwise) is through relationships with people. When there is a wealth of access to information (Google, anyone?) but there is a dearth of true insight, humanity has really only managed to wrest a sliver from the great artifice of this thing that we call “reality.”

Connection: There is a dearth of connection. Sure, we can connect with an old friend, email an organization and get personalized service, or even instant message a fellow professional in another vertical space far away from ours and harass and/or troll them. But such acts are shorthand for real connection; and, they rely too much on the tool (Facebook, IM, email, etc.) rather than focusing on the act of connecting. Connection with a person, face-to-face, unambiguously, is the only way that conflicts between human beings, and within human groups, will be solved.

Trust: There is a dearth of trust. Sure there is wisdom. And yes, there is connection. But, as has often been said in this space, there isn’t a lack of information, but there is a lack of trust. Not only is there a lack of meaningful connection, there is also a lack of trust. Organizations and individuals rely on this lack of trust to establish their authority long enough in your mind to get you to make a purchase. But trust established for less time than it takes to make a neocortical electrical leap from impulse to emotion to judgment, to justification, to purchase, isn’t really trust at all. That’s just effective marketing.

Showing up every day and being willing to learn, rather than to teach.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Creating an environment of humility.

Do these three things and you’ll be well on your way to building trust, wisdom, and connection for yourself and for others.

[Strategy] The Wisdom of Solomon Matters

There was once two women, who both claimed ownership of one child.

In an attempt to determine to whom, the baby actually belonged, (or who was the biological mother) the king decided to physically threaten the child in the presence of the two women through proposing to bisect the child.

The women who was the child’s mother protested. The other women kept silent and the baby was returned to its biological mother.

This story is ancient and hails from a time before lie detectors, biometric scans, and even neurolinguistics; which is why, it cuts to the heart of two human truths:

  • The women who claimed ownership of the children were both driven by ineluctable inner needs.
  • Threatening to bisect the baby focused the women’s attention on those things that matter.

Both of these truths are self-evident in a negotiation scenario. But here’s the thing: Sometime, it’s okay to let the baby be bisected.

Sometimes, parties need to experience the shock and trauma of loss, but not on their terms, in order to return to the table and negotiate for a better outcome.

When dealing with human lives (and “baby splitting” happens all the time in preparations for warfare) parties often count the cost and then decide to go ahead with a disastrous action. And out of that disaster comes new opportunities to focus parties on what matters, rather than getting trapped in the weeds of irrelevancies that may have previously dominated the conversation.

Parties in conflict can be lazy, deceptive, self-serving, myopic, and greedy. Clarity of purpose, drive, focus on attaining tangible outcomes that matter, and developing a relationship with the other party often stall in the real world.

And it’s in the real world, outside of the theories of how human beings should and ought to work, that the wisdom of a mediator matters the most.

[Opinion] The Candy Coated World 2

Advice based on principles is the chocolate candy missing underneath much of the candy coated knowledge and information on the Internet these days.

Principles aren’t really that compelling though, and talking about them leaves no room for entertainment, spectacle, or fame.

Positions are much more compelling, because they can shift with mores, styles, and trends. Talking about positions is entertaining, but not really relevant.

I keep pressing this point in various ways: Wisdom cannot be distilled into just one blog post, one podcast interview, one live streaming video feed, one impermanent interaction at a time. Wisdom comes from developing relationships, but it seems that our human tendency on the Internet to favor our dessert over our vegetables has begun to creep into our real-time, real-world interactions.

Advice based in principles, relationships, lived experiences, as well as theories and ideas, leads to innovation, progress, and development. But it can all seem like gossamer when your relationships with other people don’t work out like they seem to via your social media platform of choice.

There are ways to accumulate this advice: solitude, mindfulness, focus, respect, deep thinking, writing, and listening without arguing in your head with the person speaking are the tools (in the Frederick Winslow Taylor mode, they are the 22lb shovel) you can use to acquire wisdom.

Style over substance used to be a negative, but that era is long since passed. And in our rush to get to the next innovative hill, we forget the time tested tools, insights, and advice that come from hard-won wisdom.

And we risk being increasingly unfulfilled by a candy-coated shell.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

Who Will Take Up The Banner

We seek experts out because, even in a world where there is no more “secret sauce,” the vast majority of us still take the shortest route to the best possible outcome.



Peace building professionals should have gained knowledge of this, either through practical experiences at the peace building table, or just through watching humanity stumble through this thing called life.

Is it any wonder then, that our professions—from the law to engineering—still view credentialing as the “coin of the realm” and seek to convince clients (who don’t know enough to question otherwise) of the veracity of their pedigrees?

This tendency to seek the shortcut, the easy answer, and to give ideas and philosophies which seem complicated the short shrift, has also lead to a loss of practical, moral wisdom. A loss of Phronesis, if you will.

The peace building professional who seeks to ensure that her clients are self-determined and are allowed the space to enact further damage on themselves and each other, is worthy of far more credentialing than the individual who knew all the right answers on the last State Board exams.

The field of peace building is at a crossroads—and has been for about the last ten years.

The practitioners, credentialers, academics, and others who hold the reigns of power, have to decide if Phronesis is more important than field level shorthand, and whether or not honoring the former rather than the latter, will lead to a stronger field or a weaker one.

Clients and the market can’t direct the field around this, they can’t point the way.

Data and technology will not save us either. Artificial intelligence is just that, artificial, and lacking in profound moral and ethical wisdom. And big data is only information without interpretation and action.

Phronesis is what needs to be acknowledged so that clients’ best interests are protected.

But who will take up the banner?

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: