Signs of Intelligent Life

I received an email the other day. A colleague of mine had passed away. My attitude about death is a little…removed, I’d say. I see it as inevitable, and only view it as a tragedy when someone hasn’t had the opportunity to ‘do their thing’–to contribute, to express themselves, to have their time up to bat and take a big swing. This gentleman had lived a full life, so I was sad to hear it. But all I could say was, Well done, sir.

One of the things I remember about this man was his reluctance (unlike me!) to give advice. He had a serious intellect, unparalleled legal mind, and a generous spirit. He could dissect a position or an argument in moments, laying bare weaknesses (and oftentimes adversaries) with a few soft-spoken words. However, he would never opine on a personal issue.

I once asked him why. He told me that, as a lawyer, he was trained to ask a lot of questions first, and get as much information as possible about a legal issue, and only then offer a moderated opinion. While he felt comfortable doing this as it related to the law, he felt in personal matters there was no way for him to ever have enough information to accurately give solid advice. The person who needed the advice certainly wasn’t telling him everything. He probably didn’t know the other parties involved. What was a right or good choice for him might not be right or good for someone else. So, despite a wealth if intelligence and experience, he remained silent.

I was a fairly confident young man when he confided this to me, and I freely shared my less-than-considered opinions with any and all at the drop of a hat. I retreated from that behavior soon after this conversation.

If P—- was asking a lot of questions, and then, and only then giving a measured and careful opinion, and he was ten times smarter than me, I’d best clam up, or ask a lot of questions, and go a little slower in before putting my 2 cent’s worth in on a subject. 

Now, years later, I consider the awareness of ‘how much one may not know about a thing, or anything’ to be one of the Signs of Intelligent Life. I also appreciate and miss the man who shared that insight with me.

  • BGT

24 thoughts on “Signs of Intelligent Life

  1. “The awareness of ‘how much one may not know about a thing, or anything’ to be one of the Signs of Intelligent Life. ” This is so perfect! Eagerly awaiting the launch of your new book 🙂

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  2. Hi Byron. Yes, excellent advice. But I offer the contrary point of view in that how many people learn and grow when solid advice is given and taken from someone such as your friend. I suppose the key is to have an open mind and being willing to learn from such individuals. I for one value your advice and comments on this blog and have learned so much. I suppose the key words here are open mind and being willing to learn! Anyway, excellent title for this post.

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  3. Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Should one use one’s experience, knowledge and wisdom to help others? Should one be afraid of vigorous debate? Should one avoid confrontation at all costs?

    I usually love it when others point out weaknesses in my position or my argument. It’s how I learn and grow and it provides me the opportunity to re-examine possible flaws in my analysis. Intellectual sparing sharpens the mind. The key is to do it without being rude or offensive. Debate the idea, but don’t attack the other person and don’t be impolite.

    Refusing to engage out of a fear that you may turn out to be less than completely correct about something may be easier in the short run, but in the long run I think you do yourself and everyone else a disservice. But as I said, I’m just playing devil’s advocate.

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  4. Proverbs 17:28

    Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.

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  5. You are not cold-hearted for your view on deaths; they are a part of the life. Death often transforms the lives of others significantly, and in retrospect, can leave lasting and dare I say, positive impact. In cases of untimely death, it is much more difficult to ever make sense of it, but we don’t have to. Reading history is important for understanding death.

    Your post is also about advice, and so the death of someone can emphasize for us how they lived, which often makes more of an impression than advice. In fact, I’m sure I have never taken advice, but learned only from the experiences I’ve had as a result of my own pigheaded choices. Often advice is dispensed for the benefit of the adviser’s ego. Maybe the best way to help others is to be a good example instead, and trust it will be noticed when others are ready to consider.

    A bit of serious rambling for a Monday morning as the seasons finally change.

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  6. Slow to speak, quick to listen. But if in your thirties maybe is should be said, never speak, only listen until you have lived more, as I am now learning and enjoying it more than I thought I would.

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  7. This was a nice tribute to a good person. And by sharing it with us, you have allowed part of him to live on as a positive influence on your readers’ lives.

    When someone dies, I find it helpful to take something about that person as a lesson or guide to my own life. In this way, the person’s legacy lives on in me and in the way I treat others.

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