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Intuition vs. wisdom — both have their place, and their power: Susannah Gal

Posted 12/18/19

Intuition vs. wisdom — what’s the difference?

This issue came up during a discussion within the Christian faculty group at Penn State Harrisburg when we were discussing a section of …

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Intuition vs. wisdom — both have their place, and their power: Susannah Gal

photo by Chetan Menaria via unsplash.com
Posted

Intuition vs. wisdom — what’s the difference?

This issue came up during a discussion within the Christian faculty group at Penn State Harrisburg when we were discussing a section of the book we’ve been reading called “I Beg to Differ” by Tim Muehlhoff.

I mentioned this book last month when I summarized the mediation training I had recently completed. This book describes a similar approach to dealing with difficult conversations and adds biblical references and a Christian element.

In the faculty group, we were talking about an approach to having a difficult conversation with another person. This book suggests you first find out what the person believes around the topic, then why they believe what they do. Then you get to a point of trying to figure out how to proceed next.

One of the men in the group said that he would use his wisdom to determine that. I said I’d use my intuition. Then there was a good discussion about how those two things are different.

Wikipedia defines wisdom as “the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight” while intuition as “the ability to acquire knowledge without recourse to conscious reasoning.”

For me, the former involves more of the brain and the latter, more of my heart. It’s interesting that Wikipedia indicates intuition is acquiring knowledge vs. wisdom as using knowledge.

Both women in the group felt they’d use their intuition and two of the men mentioned they’d use their wisdom. I’m not sure it’s always strictly true that gender difference is so stark on this topic.

The other kinds of phrases that might be associated with intuition include: “Go with your gut” or “Think with your heart and not your head.”

I think as adults we sometimes encourage children to ignore their intuitions by forcing them to kiss or hug an older family member that might make them uncomfortable. I know that I had a bad sense from one of my uncles — he was a regular drinker and would become unable to carry on a normal conversation during family gatherings.

As a teenager and young adult, I was forced to say nice things to that uncle when my sense was that he was behaving badly. I found that really hard.

I wonder if a consequence of forcing children to suppress their natural intuitions is that some kids put themselves in a situation with untrustworthy people and allow those people to do inappropriate things with them. I wonder what would have happened in some of those child molestation or abuse cases if we adults had acknowledged our own intuitions or those of the kids about those people before putting them with our children.

My observation is that, in general, women tend to have more empathy or use their intuitive sense more often than men. I’m guessing some of that stems from what our society regularly expects of women and men, what are considered feminine qualities vs. masculine ones.

One of my friends suggested another version of the distinction between wisdom and intuition. She pointed out that she considered some people wise because they were really good at pulling together all the facts and innuendoes around a situation and getting to the essence of the issue. This friend felt that intuition helps one to get to the emotional issues, the heart of the person or people involved. I thought that was really insightful and probably indicates that both wisdom and intuition are important skills we should value in ourselves and others.

I think I have used my intuition correctly many times in the past. In fact, I remember one time when I had been in my administrative position only a few months and had met with a group that had caused some challenges for the campus. I sensed pretty soon what might be their limitation and discussed with someone who had worked with them longer and he said — “Wow! You figured that out quickly. It took me two years to determine that.”

I remember another time when I was trying to help a manager who was having a lot of difficulty with their staff. I talked with this person and told them my concerns based on what I’d discovered by talking with their staff. I had the sense I wanted to help this manager work through their issues, although my intuition was also saying maybe this person doesn’t really want to be managing the group any longer. It turned out my intuition was correct and I helped that manager step down and look for another opportunity that was more appropriate for them at that time.

All of this is to say you might consider thinking with your heart or feeling with your head a bit more during your next few weeks. You might learn something more about yourself and others. I know I did.

I hope you can use this holiday time to recharge and reconnect. Enjoy the rest of your year, and I hope you start 2020 rested and happy with lots to look forward to in the New Year.

Susannah Gal is a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.