This week’s word is discernment.

I encountered this term last week in a wonderful workshop offered by Gus Lee. Gus talked about courage and leadership, and one of his key points was that courageous leaders must exercise discernment.

In this context, discernment implies searching beyond what is obvious or superficial. It’s developing and exercising the power to distinguish and select what is true or appropriate or excellent.

Discernment seeks to understand what’s right, true, and best. It searches deeper than what’s expedient or acceptable.

I think I was struck most by Gus’ statement that discernment isn’t values-neutral. It operates from the premise that absolute truth exists. In a culture drowning in moral and ethical relativism, discernment involves the difficult quest to know what’s really right.

Discernment thinks long-term, digging to uncover elusive eternal truths that supersede cultural norms and rules. It recognizes that such a search involves life-long learning and a willingness to grow and learn as wisdom develops. It demands change in the face of new discovery and understanding.

Here are a couple of ideas I scribbled as I thought about being a person of discernment.

  • What’s right? is a better question than What’s legal?
  • What’s true? is more useful than What’s everyone else believe?
  • What’s best? is better than What works?
  • Good enough is never good enough in matters of truth.
  • Wisdom is more important than knowledge.
  • What’s right? gets me closer to truth than What are my rights?

Discernment isn’t easy or comfortable. Worthwhile goals seldom are.